Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Why I Need to Build a New Storm Window

The old storm window did its job for well over 13 years, but it had seen better days. If you look carefully, you can see some of the old felt weatherstrip hanging down behind the glass. I hope the new storm will look very similar, but much less rotten, and with all the weatherstrip still attached.

I took the window down soon after taking that picture. Here's a look at one of the joints once the window was in the shop:

Obviously it needed repair or replacement. Still, I wish I had been so curious about the strength of that joint. Two seconds later, having gently pried it apart with my fingers, it looked like this:

So now you know why I'm desperately working to finish the replacement storm. My "B" plan of using the old window no longer exists, and the weather is getting cold enough that water is puddling on the inside of the leaded glass and cold air radiates from it, as though it were an air conditioner. Happily, I'll be able to re-use the glass, and I'm not worrying that I might break it getting it out of the old window.

So far, the stock has been identified, and ripped to width, but I've run into some challenges, including the fact that the planer I inherited is at least temporarily unable to adjust due, I think, to rust. I'm going to have to surface the stock by hand, which means they probably won't be exactly the same width, which means I have to be more careful than I had planned with how I cut the tenons and saddles for the joints. I think I've figured it out, though, and if it works I'll post about it. And if it doesn't work... I'll still post about it.

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Storm Window Design

More pictures, fewer words. Here's the plan for the first storm window. Dimensions will be different, but construction will be the same:

This started as a half-lap joint, but became a bridle joint to improve the mechanical joint. The trimming moldings are intended to reduce the chance of moisture getting into the joint.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Featherboards for Ripping Window Stock

The Radial Arm Saw (RAS) adjustments are completed—I expect to write about that soon—and it is almost time to start building the storm window to replace the old rotted one I willfully destroyed. This is a project on which I will definitely use machinery, and the RAS will play a key roll.

Research revealed that my prior belief that poplar would be better than pine for outdoor applications was wrong. In fact, consensus amongst online woodworkers and the Wood Handbook from the U.S. Forest Service agreed that pine was usually better, but not by much. So ignore my earlier intimation in the Replacing a Rotting Stair Riser post that poplar is any good for rot resistance: it isn't.

Among the contenders for stable outdoor woods: cherry, walnut, cedar, white oak, and mahogany. What a bummer: the beautiful woods are apparently also the ones to use in painted applications outdoors. There is a small silver lining in this: about two years ago I said "yes" when a friend offered me part of a bargain pile of mahogany offcuts, all 4/4 in random widths and 5 foot lengths. This stock is perfect for building the storm, and I selected window stock from this pile:
The thinnest piece will become a simple triangular molding designed to stop water from flowing easily into the window joints. I plan to post the storm window plans in a future entry. Especially because the molding stock was so thin, I wanted to have it seated firmly against the fence of the RAS (yes, I am going to rip stock on a Radial Arm Saw; and no, I am not any more afraid of this than I would be with a table saw). I wanted feather boards.

To start, I ripped a scrap of pine into thinner sections to make two feather boards:

Then I turned the arm to 45 degrees and cut a fresh kerf in the fence:

Using the newly cut kerf, I could line up precisely with the marked 45 degree cut and know that the cut would be exactly on the line. This kind of precision isn't necessary for the feather boards, but it was good practice for when it would be:

With the angles cut onto the board, I turned the saw back to the rip position and started cutting fingers on the board. I ripped to the marked line, turned off the saw between cuts, and repositioned the rip. Unlike a table saw, where the blade is stationary and the fence moves, on the radial arm saw the fence is stationary and the blade and motor are repositioned:

Many people have cautioned me about the dangers of ripping on a Radial Arm Saw (including my father and a friend who attended the North Bennet Street school), and while I agree that any exposed blade rotating at high speed can be a danger, in practice I believe a well adjusted Radial is as safe or safer for ripping than most table saw settups. Take a look at this:

Notice that the body of the motor blocks access to the side of the blade, and the blade guard, once properly positioned, sits directly between the feeding hand and the blade. Through all of this ripping, I felt perfectly comfortable with the safety precautions on the saw. And because I had adjusted the heal/toe position properly, there was no tendancy to kick. The process went quickly and when I tested the newly cut feather board it worked perfectly:

The only thing I didn't like about the feather board was the long point just waiting to catch me in the hip. So I cut the other side to a 45 degree and rounded the tip before starting in on another. At the end of the night I had two feather boards completed:

With that done, I'll soon be ripping window stock.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Roman Tools for Building Catapults

Watching the crew build the full-sized replica of a Roman catapult (in the video embedded in my last post) I was struck by a number of things the Romans did not have when they created these monstrous machines: they did not have fork lifts, chainsaws, power drills, circular saws, cranes, and other powered machinery. But even in those ancient times they had almost all of the hand-powered hand tools that modern woodworker has, and most of these we would recognize.

According to Roman Woodworking, the book I mentioned in a prior post, a woodworker in those times would have had a full compliment of tools for building in wood. I was surprised to see how many of these tools looked essentially identical to those we use today. Here's a quick list I compiled from the book:
  • Workbench
  • Adze
  • Auger
  • Chisel (both paring and mortising)
  • Gouge
  • Drill
  • Knife
  • Draw knife
  • Spokeshave
  • Lathe
  • Plane
  • Saw
  • Wedge
  • Hammer
  • Mallet
  • Calipers
  • Dividers
  • Compass
  • Plumb Line
  • Level
  • Ruler
  • Square
  • Bench dog
  • Clamp
In all, a fairly complete list of hand tools for building in wood. As for moving the massive timbers around and assembling the machine, they would have had to do this all the hard way—with levers, wedges, mallets, hammers, pulleys, and raw muscle. Wow.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Building a Roman Catapult

Now this is a woodworking project. Building a full-sized Roman catapult replica is so cool on so many levels.

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

One Reason to Hate MDF

Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF) isn't just for counters and insta-furniture any more. I've seen it used as a veneer base and structural component by woodworkers doing stunning work, and there are many things to recommend it, like stability, consistency, and affordability.

But I just can't like MDF, and after using it for reference boards to test and adjust my Radial Arm Saw (RAS), I can't say that I like it any more than I did. I will continue to use this product for sacrifice tables on the RAS, for reference boards used to test its accuracy, and for some jigs, but I aim to avoid using it as much as possible. Here's why:

If you don't know what you're looking at, it's dust. Not regular saw dust, but the finest powder I can imagine that still looks like it might be a wood product. I sometimes forget a dust mask when working with real wood, but never with MDF. After one cut, I'm ready to put the ventilator over my face—even on the hottest most humid day.

Two new rules developed this week while I was adjusting the RAS. These are good rules for any power sawing, but essential when working with MDF:
  1. Clear surfaces of all but the tools required for the current job. This makes it easy to vacuum up afterward, and prevents the dust getting in the working parts of your tools.
  2. If it can be closed, close all tool storage completely (Even if it is nowhere near the saw). Again: an ounce of prevention will keep most of this dust out of your tools.
One final sad fact about MDF: while you can plane it (and to make the reference boards I found it necessary) you cannot make shavings. Even with a sharp blade, MDF will only produce dust. Blade dulling, throat choking (the plane's, not mine), dust.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

More Radial Arm Saw Adjustments


It has been years since the radial arm saw came into my shop, and I have not used it at all because it was not set up accurately. I've been working on fixing this over the last two weeks, and I'm getting quite familiar with the settings.

The thing that took me longest, was getting the table to be nearly perfect in its alignment with the saw arm. I had spend hours trying to get this right, and I was getting nowhere until I learned the trick from a book called Fine Tuning Your Radial Arm Saw, by Jon Eakes. The secret was to adjust four reference points on the table and use a crescent wrench as a lever for fine positioning. This simple trick was a huge revelation, and once I learned it, adjusting the table was done in under an hour. I'm sure I could do it in under 30 minutes now if I needed to do it again.


I'm now most of the way through testing and adjusting the saw. I hope to finish tomorrow and start ripping stock for the storm windows I need to build. I guess I just needed a big project (ripping and chopping the stock for 5 storms) with a deadline (winter) to motivate me to get this machine working. There was no way I was going to rip all that stock by hand.

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Thursday, October 2, 2008

Woodworking Word of the Day: Sneck

While rereading the August 2008 issue of Popular Woodworking, I noticed a word I had never heard or seen before: sneck. In his review of the Brese 800-series planes, Christopher Schwartz said "I wish the iron had a full sneck—a horizontal bar of metal—which would make the iron easier to retract."

For reference, the plane iron on the Brese plane was similar to the standard iron found on most hand planes:

I couldn't picture it from his description. When I looked up sneck in the dictionary, however, there was no reference to plane irons. The only dictionary definition had to do with door latches.

I thought the clearest definition came from Halliwell's Dictionary of Archaic and Provincial Words, 2d edition: "SNECK, that part of the iron fastening of a door which is raised by moving the latch. To sneck a door, is to latch it." So the sneck, in fact, is a hooked end of a traditional door latch, which minus the handle looks something like this:

Some research on the Web, however turned up two types of sneck used on plane irons, and after seeing the type used on some plow planes, it is easy to imagine that the term comes directly from the traditional definition of sneck—the hooked end of a traditional plow iron looks like a door sneck with the thumb rest removed:

I don't think that is the type of sneck that Christopher Schwartz was picturing. I think that the "full sneck" he had in mind would look like this:

I have no idea whether etymologists would confirm my suspicion that plane snecks are so called because of the resemblance to door snecks, but that's my story and I'm snecking to it.

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