WoodCentral Special Guest Chat


October 10, 2004

Ellis Hi, everyone. I'd like to welcome you to the WoodCentral Chat Room. Tonight's guest is the well-known woodworking author, Jim Tolpin, who has been woodworking professionally for over 25 years and writing about cabinetmaking and finish carpentry for the past 15 years or so. Jim, welcome to WoodCentral!
big_john hi jim
Mike_in_Mystic__CT Welcome Jim
Doug welcome Jim
Carole_in_VA Welcome to ur little piece of heaven Jim!
Mike_in_Mystic__CT Love your books, Jim -need to get more of them
MacS Hi Jim
george_s Hi Guys, Just dropping in.
Mike_in_Mystic__CT so, where do we send our books to get autographed? hehe
JohnV welcome Jim
Jim Tolpin Hello everyone, sorry I'm late!!
JohnP no problem
Thomas_Williams Good evening,
Jim Tolpin Has anyone read my latest book -- the one illustrated with cartoons?
Ellis I have!
Joel_Oswald416 I have read bits and pieces
Doug not as of yet
Mike_in_Mystic__CT Afraid not, Jim
MacS who is the publisher
Mike_in_Mystic__CT Heard only good things, though
Ellis How long has it been out there, Jim?
Jim Tolpin This book was really close to my heart--published by F&W, been out about a month
big_john not me but i hope to get around to it
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Ellis We reviewed it on WoodCentral. Check out Barb's review.
Jim Tolpin Lots of true stories, which were really fun to write about, though not necessarily to experience!
Carole_in_VA Jim, you must have to spend so much time writing, do you ever long for the days when you were "just a worker of wood"?
Ellis I loved the concept of the book, Jim, organized around sixty priceless lessons that you have learned over the years, and the cartoons are great. I liked the way you delivered the tips. You have a way of creating exactly the right image in the reader's mind.
big_john so when did you first become interesed in woodworking Jim
MacS Good Look
Jim Tolpin I do get to do some woodworking still, though not commercially. Writing does keep me very busy. But i am doing my own kitchen right now with a friend
MacS Good Luck
RobertTarr Very funny book Jim....with alot of common sense and still a bunch of good tips..Love the format
Jim Tolpin I got interested in woodworking watching my Grandfather build cabinets, and I got to help him a bit.
Ellis Was that out there in Washington?
Jim Tolpin Nope, where I grew up in western Mass.
Mike_in_Mystic__CT You live in WA now, Jim? I grew up in the Tri-Cities
Jim Tolpin I started woodworking for a living in Maine, boatwork...
Jim Tolpin I am in Wa now, however, still doing a bit of boatbuilding--kind of full circle
Mike_in_Mystic__CT your range of topics is so broad, Jim - how do you develop the material? do you pick a topic and then set out to be an expert, or is it the other way around?
AndyL Jim,of all the toolboxes in The Toolbox Book,do you have a favorite?Favorite style?
MacS Jim, why did you choose F&W to publish your book?
Jim Tolpin I've done an awful lot of different things in the woodworking world over the years, and enjoyed all the aspects of this trade--so I had lots of material to work from when I started writing
Jim Tolpin Favorite tool box was Andy Rae's on the cover!
Ellis Andy would be happy to hear that.
Jim Tolpin I also really liked the hexagonal carving tool chest whose design came from Kit Africa--son of Spike Africa--but that's another story
Jim Tolpin Spike was president of the Pacific Ocean incase you're wondering
Carole_in_VA Jim, someone on WC recently asked "If you were going to give one piece of advice to a new woodworker, what would it be?" What would be your reply to that question?
Jim Tolpin Always keep one eye out for your hands!
Doug Jim, do you ever visit online forums, to see what other WW's are doing and saying about various subjects.
Ellis Amen
Carole_in_VA LOL
Mike_in_Mystic__CT ever had any close calls Jim?
Jim Tolpin Sometimes I visit the forums, but haven't jumped in very often. This is fun, though, so I'm inspired!
Ellis I loved that caricature in your book with you dreaming of a tropical beach while about to absentmindedly run your thumb through the tablesaw. Really put a point on it.
Doug I can imagine if people knew it was you, you would be bombarded with all kinds of stuff
Jim Tolpin Close calls--well there was the time the bandsaw blade broke on the 36-in ships saw, snaked itself out of the top and chased us all around the boat shop for a while!
Ellis Well, you have a lot of fans, as you might imagine, having sold three quarters of a million books.
Carole_in_VA Yikes!
Ellis How does a ship's saw differ from a big ol' bandsaw?
Mike_in_Mystic__CT how many books do you work on at once?
Jim Tolpin Either there are a lot of fans, or there are a few that like to collect a lot of one book!
Jim Tolpin Ships saw: the table doesn't tilt, the blade does.
Ellis Speaking of which, which of your books has been the best seller and why?
Jim Tolpin One of the best sellers is the traditional cabinet book, the other is built-in furniture. I also did some architecture books (cottages) that have sold very well.
Russ_Allen How did you go from woodworker to author?
Jim Tolpin Builtin furniture has sold a lot through Home Depot for some reason
Carole_in_VA How big is your shop, Jim?
Jim Tolpin I started writing when I decided I needed to write a shop manual for the guys working with me...it got bigger the more I got into it.
Jim Tolpin My current shop is the basement of my house--about a thousand square feet. Just big enough!
Doug Jim, do you have other interest? Ever get a chance to enjoy in them?
Ellis I remember those days in my own shop, Jim. That was a defining moment for me too.
Jim Tolpin One of my other interests is rowing. We live on the water here, and I built a rowing wherry to get me out on it. Also model airplanes have come back as a hobby for me, back from the 1950's!
mike Jim....what is your favorite case construction technique for kitchen cabinets?
Greg Same here
Jim Tolpin Cases: I now go for confirmats and spline biscuits. Fast, strong, and appropriate for case work.
Jim Tolpin I wouldn't use them in furniture much, however--they have to cope with far more stresses than case work tied to walls.
Ellis And you've figured out some tricks for doing the drilling without fancy machines.
Mike_in_Mystic__CT I'm in the planning stages of my first built in project - what are the biggest pitfalls I should worry about?
Carole_in_VA Confirmats? Am I the only one who doesn't know what that is?
Kitty nope
Mike_in_Mystic__CT it's a special screw for melamine/MDF
Jim Tolpin Be absolutely sure the case is going to fit in the space appropriated for it--measure with story sticks, not tape measure
Mike_in_Mystic__CT http://www.rockler.com/ecom7/product_details.cfm?&sku=652&filter=confirmat
Ellis Confirmats are European screws with thin threads that are widely used for case construction with man made boards.
Carole_in_VA Ah hah!
Jim Tolpin Hafele is the manufacturer
Thomas_Williams So Jim, are you using only man made material for cabinet cases?
mike Is this a good technique for traditional cabinets with face frames using plywood?
Jim Tolpin YOu use a special stepped drill bit and jig (available from Hafele) to install them. You can't blow the cabinets apart with a sledge hammer once they are fastened down (I"ve tried)
Ellis To deal with them, you need step drills in metric sizes, etc, but they are really the best way to butt join man-made boards.
Jim Tolpin All my cabinets lately are prefinished maple plywood.
Greg Jim, where can I get plans for a nice machinist, or pattern makers chest? Are any available online?
big_john what type of blade would you use on the table saw if you were to rip a glue joint
Jim Tolpin I use my lower-grade carbides for boards with prolific glue joints--they do sometimes chip, but not bad.
Ellis And are you using VC ply or fiber or flake?
Jim Tolpin Don't know of source for pattern makers chest--I would check with museums like Smithsonian on tha.
Greg ok
Jim Tolpin using ply almost exclusively these days-
Jim Tolpin I'm a big fan of prefinished (catalyzed lacquer) plywoods for casework--saves an enormous amount of time
Doug Done any videos on woodworking?
Thomas_Williams Is it bought prefinished?
mike Expensive??
Mike_in_Mystic__CT popular woodworking had a good plan for a machinist chest in 2003, I think
Jim Tolpin Nope, no videos as of yet. I've been in discussions, but haven't signed any contracts!
Thomas_Williams Any television deals in the offing?
Jim Tolpin yes, the ply is bought prefinished, its expensive--but not when you consider labor savings
Mike_in_Mystic__CT I'm not sure I've ever seen pre-finished plywood offered at my dealers - but then again, I never asked
mike any sources for us??
JohnP jim, does that involve some touch up after assembly?
Jim Tolpin I buy all my materials through Edensaw woods, which is based here in my town...but I think the prfinished stuff is widely available.
Jim Tolpin Sometimes touchup is necessary, but rarely. This finish is unbelievably tough.
mike never seen in Wisconsin
Doug never seen it either, let alone heard of it
Jim Tolpin Check with suppliers to professional shops in metro areas--
mike I guess we have to write a book......lol
mike j/k
Jim Tolpin Edensaw does ship, but I'm not sure if cost effective outside of NW
mike love your books Jim!
Jim Tolpin Thanks Mike!! I love that you read them!
Mike_in_Mystic__CT not sure if you saw this earlier: I'm in the planning stages of my first built-in. what are the most important pitfalls to avoid?
Doug Jim, do you do woodworking shows? If so ever coming to Indianapolis?
mike Doing my Kitchen now using your designs
Jim Tolpin Mike: Be very sure your dimensions are right--use story sticks.
Jim Tolpin I do some shows, maybe doing more in the future
Mike_in_Mystic__CT do you assemble the cases in place?
Mike_in_Mystic__CT I might have to - it's in a finished attic with a very narrow door/stairs
big_john i am 16 Jim and i have been in woodworking for about a year do you have any advice for me.
Jim Tolpin Rarely, mostly set boxes in place, add trim to fit
Ellis Do you use MCP much for cabinet interiors, Jim?
Jim Tolpin Big John: remember practice makes perfect. Some of the techniques take a while to learn, but like skiing, once you got it, you got it. Learn from everyone you see!
Carole_in_VA Is there a good explanation of a story stick and how to make and use them somewhere?
big_john thanks
Mike_in_Mystic__CT what is MCP?
Jim Tolpin Story sticks are well explained in my traditional cabinetmaking book
Ellis Experience counts for a lot.
Jim Tolpin Experience starts when you begin--Pete Culler
Carole_in_VA OK...guess that one is on my list as well as two others!
Jim Tolpin Experience is what you get right after you need it--anonymous
Ellis Words to live by
Ellis Tell us about the gypsy wagon project you're working on.
Jim Tolpin This is my 5th gypsy wagon --not really reproductions, more like interpretations. The one I've got going now is a bow-top--canvas roof. Lots of hand carving, hand painting. No router work as I wanted to get unique edge shapes--and the chamfers had to be hand done
Jim Tolpin I used spokeshaves and drawknives for all the shaping
Greg Any pics Jim?
Ellis What nationalities of gypsies are you harking to?
Jim Tolpin I'll try to post a photo of the current wagon on this site if that's ok with Ellis
Ellis Twist my arm.
Jim Tolpin The wagons were mostly built in England around the turn of the last--last century--but the gypsys were mostly Romanian that went into England I believe.
Mike_in_Mystic__CT do you have a website, Jim?
Ellis Actually, we should have a complete shop shot, with all the bells and whistles.
Jim Tolpin My website is www.cottagehome.net
Ellis We'll be indexing your site in our links section shortly, Jim.
Ellis What about your interest in cottages?
Jim Tolpin If you get me started on cottages we will be here all night!! But I have an abiding interest in them--I believe we have an inherent need for cozy homes..
Ellis How do you differentiate cottages from the A&C bungalows?
Jim Tolpin And its difficult for a home to be cozy unless it is scaled to the human body. That's why we seem to equate cozy with small
Ellis Or do cottages include bungalows?
Jim Tolpin Bungalows are cottages--a stylistic variety
Jim Tolpin Wright designed cottages as well--the Usonians
Ellis Where were those, Jim?
Ellis I worked on a Wright house in PA once.
Jim Tolpin Mostly mid-west--though some were shown in NYC
Ellis A production model
Jim Tolpin I've heard that the craftsmanship on some fo the Wrigtht homes left something to be desired.
Ellis I'll second that. And the engineering.
Jim Tolpin Yes, but the fundamentals of why his homes worked was always there and always effective
Jim Tolpin They worked because they made sense to peoples guts
Ellis And their aesthetics.
Jim Tolpin You really have to see one close up to appreciate it entirely
Jim Tolpin Aesthetics require guts!!
Ellis Wright was an experimenter. Sometimes he didn't quite have everything figured out.
Kevin_Gerstenecker Speaking of Wright, is Fallingwater open again after the maintenance process?
Mike_in_Mystic__CT the only one I've seen was Fallingwater - pretty amazing place
Jim Tolpin I"d love to see Fallingwater in person someday
Ellis Me too.
Jim Tolpin Lots of interesting stories about Wright, including his bizarre furniture designs.
Jim Tolpin What aspect of woodworking do most people perceive to be the most difficult to master I wonder?
Doug finishing
Jim Tolpin For me it was sharpening really well.
Kevin_Gerstenecker Design
Mike_in_Mystic__CT so, Jim, knowing what you know now about woodworking. what would you do different if you were just starting out (i mean as a newbie woodworker, not a pro)? how would you focus your efforts to best effect?
Jim Tolpin Design is formidable--requires study of whats out there, been there, and self confidence to strike out on your own
Mike_in_Mystic__CT for me it is woodturning
Carole_in_VA joinery ( I am new at this though)
Doug joinery rates up there as well
Mike_in_Mystic__CT joinery seems kind of broad - what exactly do you mean?
Jim Tolpin Mike: I would try to stick it out more with a good teacher--get as much out of them as possible before moving on.
Doug I mean taking two pieces of wood and joining them. just funnin' :-)
Mike_in_Mystic__CT that sounds like great advice. One thing I've found disappointing is the lack of quality local teachers. Thank god for great books :)
AndyL Jim,I must exit early. Thank you for taking the time to be with us, and Ellis, thanks again fot your work in lining it all up.
Jim Tolpin You can learn from books---but its so much eaier to have a teacher to watch and learn from. Videos are next best thing.
Ellis You bet, Andy
Carole_in_VA What type sould be used in specific situations.
Mike_in_Mystic__CT I hear you.
Mike_in_Mystic__CT I have a whole library of videos now, too
Jim Tolpin Cheers Andy
Russ_Allen Will you be teaching anywhere? I took a class of yours at Marc Adams school a few years ago. I was hoping you'd return.
Jim Tolpin Taunton has some good books on joinery that might help the decision process
Ellis I agree completely with teachers and videos, Jim
Kevin_Gerstenecker I think of all disciplines of Woodworking, Turning is the most "You either have it, or you don't" genre. There is a nack to turning.......but in can be learned as well
Mike_in_Mystic__CT I am going to luckily take a windsor chair class up at Mike Dunbar's place this coming year - can't wait
Jim Tolpin Turning is an art...
Kevin_Gerstenecker Very true Jim
Jim Tolpin Say hello to Mike D for me!
Mike_in_Mystic__CT I agree. I just chucked up some wood today and tried to make it round. It was a sad sight
Jim Tolpin NO schedule yet for returning to Marc's, but it may happen and I'll post it here.
Mike_in_Mystic__CT So, have you ever made a totem? (considering where you live)
Jim Tolpin Turning was never a high point for me either, but I hope to return to it someday. I want to at least be able to make pens to give away.....No totem yet!!
Jim Tolpin There are a lot of Totem makers here, though---and some are phenominal carvers
Mike_in_Mystic__CT I've made about 10 pens -some pretty good. It is bittersweet that some of the casework, clocks, tables, etc. that I've made don't get half the reaction as "You MADE this pen??? From WOOD????"
Mike_in_Mystic__CT enough to make you sit and stare at a wall hehe
Jim Tolpin In fact, some of the best carving I've ever seen was on an ancient totem in the Victoria BC museum
Kevin_Gerstenecker I hear ya Mike.................isn't that crazy? I have gotten the same reaction
Jim Tolpin I know I guy who makes ties out of wood! And sometimes hats!
Ellis Jim, I'd like to hear more about cottages. What is the fundamental attraction of cottage architecture to you?
Doug wait till you do one from a corncob
Jim Tolpin That gets some stares and comments
Mike_in_Mystic__CT I've seen that italian guy that makes boats that look like cars. He even made a whole house and everything inside it - from wood!
Jim Tolpin Cottages equal contentment, comfort, profound safety--cause they always have!
Carole_in_VA Yeah...he made the Vette
Mike_in_Mystic__CT have you built any cottages - start to finish- Jim?
Ellis With a psychological component, like cocooning
Jim Tolpin I've done a few timberframe homes, mostly early colonials but not what I would strictly call a cottage!
Ellis What are some of the aspects of cotage architecture, besides cozy scale?
Mike_in_Mystic__CT I've been gently nudging my wife in the direction of buying some nice rural land and building a new house. Not sure if my grand 3500 sq. ft dream would be a cottage either hehe
Kevin_Gerstenecker I couldn't agree more Jim........Cottage=comfort.....for me and my family, anyway
Jim Tolpin There are other architecural elements to consider like style and proportion--but there is also, maybe more inportant, setting.
Mike_in_Mystic__CT I'm one of 8 kids (the 8th in fact) - cottage sounds crowded to me hehe
Jim Tolpin Cottage isn't necessarily about square footage.
Ellis Well, Mike, the Gamble House (Greene & Greene) was a 9,000 sq.ft. "bungalow," so you should be okay.
Kevin_Gerstenecker Just build it with 7' ceilings Mike..........that will give you the cottage feel. ;-)
Mike_in_Mystic__CT hehe
Ellis So the cottage is as much about place as about form
Jim Tolpin Its really about how the space and the place feel.
Mike_in_Mystic__CT Well, the 1880 Victorian I'm in now (about 2000 sq. ft) feels "cottagy" but I might not know what I'm talking about.
Jim Tolpin If it feels cottage, it is a cottage. That's the point, in fact!
Ellis Mike, does your house have high ceilings?
Jim Tolpin I think we all know a cottage when we see one.
Mike_in_Mystic__CT It has generous ceilings, yes
Mike_in_Mystic__CT but the rooms are cozy
Jim Tolpin Generous roof..
Jim Tolpin But often low ceilings in the more private sector rooms. FLW homes are perfect example
Ellis I keep thinking of Kincaid paintings.
Carole_in_VA Exactly, Ellis!
Jim Tolpin Yes, he has tried hard to capture that feel--sometime sucessfully
Mike_in_Mystic__CT I have a signed print of Kincaid's - but it's of skating in central park hehe
Jim Tolpin Flood the basement of a cottage and you can go skating there!
Mike_in_Mystic__CT hehe
Ellis Words to live by :-)
RayT448 I thought I knew what a cottage is, but know I'm not sure
Kevin_Gerstenecker HEY, my shop is in my basement! YIKES!! :-)
Ellis How does all your experience in woodworking come to bear on cottages?
Carole_in_VA Check out jim's web site and you will see them.
Jim Tolpin The best example so cottages are to be found in Carmel Ca. YOu can see a number of examples in my book: "The New Cottage Home".
Kevin_Gerstenecker Jim, is the book available now?
RayT448 I thought mine was a traditional ranch, but at the open house today everyone said it felt good, so maybe its a cottage after all.
Jim Tolpin I did lots of woodworking in cottage homes--including my own--and I've built and lived in boats--floating cottages
Jim Tolpin Cottage book is available through stores or through my website: www.cottagehome.net
Kevin_Gerstenecker Thank you.
Jim Tolpin I live in a ranch right now--but I've been turning it into a cottage slowly.
Ellis What advice do you give to people who are thinking about turning pro?
Carole_in_VA I don't see your new book listed on your site, Jim?
Jim Tolpin Nope, Haven't got it up on site yet!
Jim Tolpin Turning Pro: Partner up with a pro if possible before jumping in alone!
Doug listed on Amazon, Carole
Carole_in_VA Thanks Doug
............................ Ohio_Bob left.............
Jim Tolpin Also be sure you are as much a businessperson as a woodworker--or would want to be!
Jim Tolpin I was a much better woodworker than business person--which is one of the other reasons I started to focus on writing about 12 years ago truth be told.
Doug leaves me out. I like to give things away
Jim Tolpin Doug: you definately need a business partner!!
Jim Tolpin A mean business partner!
Doug is that an offer???
Jim Tolpin I'm not mean enough!
Ellis Well, a lot of people who visit here are dabbling in professional woodworking, so it is a perennial hot topic.
Carole_in_VA Me too Doug. And my Ins agent told me as soon as I sold anything Imade I would hve to get different insurance (other than homeowners)! LOL
Ellis There seems to be a basic disconnect though, between working with someone and striking out on your own.
Jim Tolpin Woodworking is a joy-its tough to keep it joyful whan it becomes your occupation. It can be done, many have, but its tricky to say the least.
Ellis My sentiments exactly, Jim.
Kitty Jim, what was the motivation for the 2nd edition of Table Saw magic?
Jim Tolpin If you aren't business oriented, and if your spouse isn't either, you really need someone to handle the business end of things.
Kevin_Gerstenecker My Dad and Uncle were Cabinet Makers. I find it much easier to be a hobbiest, and sell turnings rather than make it my profession. I think the joy would be lost for me it I made it my occupation
Jim Tolpin Kitty: I wanted to correct some poor presentation in edition 1, and they wanted color photos!
Jim Tolpin That's the crux of the problem--keeping it fun!
Carole_in_VA Amazon doesn't say if it's first or second edition...
Jim Tolpin Do for work what you would do anyway for the love of it!
Greg Is there a followup edition to the toolbox book?
Ellis Work is life and vice versa.
Kevin_Gerstenecker I am fortunate to have a job I love, and do woodworking for fun.............expensive fun, but worth every dime!
Jim Tolpin No follow up in the works--I think only the 2nd edition of Tablesaw is out there.
Ellis Jim, is there any other sage advice you want to leave us with before we call it a night?
Jim Tolpin Try this for fun--spend 20 hours making a model airplane from balsa wood and then watching rekit itself in two seconds--and you still think you are having fun!!
Greg The Toolbox book is one of my favorites, and is kept on my night stand. I look at it regularly.
Jim Tolpin Sage advice: Keep the work in perspective, keep learning, keep yourself doing the harder stuff.
Mike_in_Mystic__CT Thanks for coming, Jim. It's been great!
Jim Tolpin AS I say at the end of my last book: If I always knew what I was doing, I would be bored to death!
Greg Very much enjoyed tonights chat!
Kevin_Gerstenecker I gotta run..........Jim & Ellis, thank you both SO MUCH for your time. I enjoyed my short visit.........and it is MY pleasure to be in such good company! Take care all!
Jim Tolpin Thanks everyone for being here!
Doug Thank you, enjoy life
Greg Please come back!
Kevin_Gerstenecker Thank you Jim!
Carole_in_VA Thanks for coming by, Jim.
big_john yeah thanks jim
Greg Thanks Jim, goodnight all!
Ellis Thank you for being our guest, Jim. We'll do it again.
mike great chat!
Jim Tolpin You're welcome everyone!
Jim Tolpin Anytime, Ellis!!!