Thursday, January 29, 2009

Journal Entry #5: Key and Sword

Tonight the key arrived for the jointer. So more progress was made on assembly: I put the drive pulley on the motor, put on the belt, and adjusted the tension. That was all I had time for tonight because I have a sword to make.

If you are not familiar with the Society for Creative Anachronism, you probably don't realize that making swords in my world is a woodworking project. I've been making swords for 15 years now, and I'm just starting to get good at it. They are made of ratan, which is technically a grass, but enough like wood to qualify.

Tonight I removed the old sword from the basket hilt, cut a new length of ratan to the same length as the old one using the nifty "new" miter box that my friend Glenn passed on to me—a big improvement over cutting freehand with a crosscut panel saw—determined the "direction" of the blade, and thinned the full length to 1.25" using a draw knife.

Tomorrow I'll shape and size the handle, aiming to have it pressure fit into the basket hilt tightly enough that it would stay seated without tape. Then I'll mount and tape the sword using a combination of strapping tape, nylon webbing (to add weight and durability), duct tape, and electrical tape.

Every sword is a bit of a crapshoot, but careful and consistent work tends to produce a superior blade. It is easy to get carried away with the draw knife, so even though I'm working to a deadline I'll need to be slow and deliberate with the handle.

I'm taking pictures of all this, so I hope to post a "how to" entry with roughly step by step pictures of how I do thismaybe on Sunday.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

David Brookshaw Miniature Tools

My friend Brian sent me this link. If you haven't already (or even if you have) take a spin over to Its a small site for small tools. But the pictures speak volumes. I wish there were more.

Picture ©2008 David Brookshaw.

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Journal Entry #4: Oil and Chock

Sunday I did a little bit of cleaning in the shop. A very little. But I did clear off the top of the file cabinet I've been meaning to fix and then took it apart to fix it. I thought it would need rivets, or some kind of clever metal work, but sometimes "fixing" turns out to be a spritz of oil and a wooden chock.

That's all it took: the top drawer's thumb lever had broken off leaving a latch that didn't unlatch without applying serious force. I cut a small wooden chock from one my "cut to a line" practice peices, wedged the latch open with it, and hit each of the rollers with WD-40. The bottom drawer, which seemed permanently wedged open turned out to be off its track. After oiling the thumb lever, latch, and rollers with WD-40 and putting it properly on track it was good as new.

Now—if I can figure out where it belongs—I can get it out of the shop.

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Journal Entry #3: Small Victories

At the beginning of January I bought a Delta extended-bed 6" jointer from Rockler and started setting it up. The body of the jointer (175 pounds of metal) is mounted on the stand, as is the motor, but there were adventures setting it up (I might post these with pictures at some later date).

The short story: I dropped the motor on the floor while trying to mount it (if you assemble one yourself, don't believe the picture in the manual that shows the stand upright next to the mounting instructions: it should be turned upside down before attempting to mount the motor). Of course there was a big dent in the casing and I felt I needed to turn on the motor to make sure it still worked. I didn't notice there was a key in the shaft (the key prevents the pully from sliding on the shaft) and the key went flying. Lucky me, it did not hit me, but neither can I find it. So today I tracked it down at the Dewalt/Delta service Web site and ordered a replacement. It should get here around February 5.

Also, two of the wooden toy boxes we brought with us to Belize were broken by baggage handling. I glued these back together today, and they are ready for our next trip (either to see my grandmother in Nebraska, or my parents in Minnesota—or possibly in Mexico if it is affordable).

Finally The work on the Christmas present I gave SWMBO (in the form of raw material) proceeded slightly today. I find it hard to joint the face of a board by hand, and this shelf is being more stubborn than the other pieces. Once I get this last shelf flattened, I can use the power planer to flatten the other side parallel to the surface. Can't wait, since I expect things will proceed more quickly after the stock preparation is completed.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Journal Entry #2: Carving on the Beach

There was also a wood carving establishment on the beach in San Pedro: a board set across two saw horses just under a tree. The place was frequented by a number of dread-locked men, the foremost of which seemed to be Augustus (?) Ford. Ford, as he called himself, could be seen here, always working on something, with his wares spread out on the board and on a blanket in front of it. These included standards in Belize: shark, stingray, turtle, mermaid, and cross. Most were made out of a dark tropical wood that had an almost white sapwood running through it - a striking feature of the carvings.

I don't know if Ford made all of his wares, as he claimed. I tend to think the carvings were bought unfinished from the mainland and finished by Ford and his friends. But when I asked about how he worked, he gave me a tour of his workshop (a Rubbermaid bin that he was using as a work surface). Here's what he had:
1 machete
2 half-round wood rasps in 2 sizes
1 v-gouge (with a handle designed to rest in the palm)
1 small mallet that he had obviously made for himself
1 hack saw (for cutting up old machetes)
1 detail carving knife (made of the tip of an old machete)
1 gouge or round-tipped chisel (made of the tang of an old machete)
1 triangle file
1 medium sized piece of glass
lots of sand paper, all grades
That was pretty much it. He demonstrated the use of glass as a scraper, using the triangle file to cut the edge of the glass, then using it to snap a fresh glass edge. That edge was then used to scrape a shaving from the wood. Ford said this let him skip several grades of sand paper when finishing. The finishing started with a sanding sealer that smelled strongly of turpentine (even with the sea breeze going). The process as he described it was to seal the wood, sand carefully with the coarsest grit, seal again, and sand with the next finest grit, working his way down to a very fine tooth. At the end he used a bit of 000 steel wool and polished the piece with neutral shoe polish (the equivalent of a Butchers wax).

My brother's family brought home three of these sculptures, sold to them by a guy riding down the beach: a mobile outpost, I think, of Ford's operation. One of these statues has already cracked several times from the water loss (coming from warm and moist Belize to cold and dry Massachusetts). We're hoping the other two fare better.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Journal Entry #1: Woodworking in Belize

Over the coming year I plan to include journal entries amongst the other content on this site. I expect these will be more personal and less visual than other posts. Here's the first of what may be almost daily entries.

I just returned from a vacation/wedding in Belize and was interested to see woodworking done in a developing country. I saw numerous commercial woodworking shops and recognized them not by a sign (there was none) but by the sound of power tools and the sight of lumber yards. I wished to get into one and talk with the proprietor, but did not get the chance.

Our hotel was next to a shop that had quite a stock of what looked to be 8/4 and 12/4 rough lumber and a chain link fence topped with barbed wire. The wood was obviously air drying, not stacked and stickered as we commonly see in the States, but leaning against racks made of lashed together trees. These racks positioned the wood to catch the prevailing winds across the majority of their surface. I planned to take a picture of this but never did.

Another local shop opened onto the main road and I caught a glimpse as we drove by in a golf cart. I saw the industrial green of older but well cared for machines, which looked to include an 8" or 10" jointer, a table saw, a 14" or 18" bandsaw, and several other machines.

Because I was on an island, most of the wood was imported, and most of the woodworking in evidence was made right on the island. Joinery in most pieces was simple, but sturdy—generally butt joined, but sometimes rabbeted. I saw no dovetail or mortise and tenon joints; no doubt these complex joints required more time than could be afforded.

Mahogany and pine appeared to be the primary wood choices: this is the land of tropical woods, so mahogany is locally harvested and officially the national tree. On a tour of Mayan ruins I saw two mahogany trees that were easily 10 or 12 feet in diameter and grew tall enough to feel at home in Manhattan.

Most furniture examples were utilitarian, obviously assembled with glue and nails and either painted bright colors or covered with spar varnish to protect against the sea breezes and rough weather. Bracing was visible on all of these: a nod to the fact these joints would rack, and an attempt to prevent it. Still, all these chairs, tables, bars, and decks were sturdy, so this approach appeared to work well enough. I tend to over think my joints, and probably over engineer them as well. Here was an example of how glue and nail could do the job well enough. These examples would never last a century, but many appeared to have already weathered several years and remained serviceable.

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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Woodwright's Shop - Season 28 posted online

Good news for those of us whose public television stations refuse to carry Roy Underhill's show. The new year brought season 28 to the internet, and you can now view the episodes at the Woodwright's Shop Web page.

I'm especially looking forward to watching the one about Don Weber's recreation of a Viking Tool Chest.

UPDATE on 02/01/2009:

It has come to my attention that the direct link I've provided actually resolves to the Home page of The Woodwright's Shop. Here's how you can find the online versions I've been watching:

1. Click the link to view the episodes at the Woodwright's Shop Web page.
2. Click Schedule on the left of the page.
3. Click Watch Video on the left of the page.
4. Choose one of the three seasons available for online viewing.
5. Choose the episode you want to watch.

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Friday, January 2, 2009

Another Dovetailed Candle Box

Now that Christmas is over, I can publish some pictures that were marked "Classified" by Santa's Workshop. I'm working my way slowly through a pile of box parts that I milled a few years ago, and I completed the third of these in time to send home with my parents. Every box teaches me something new, and gives me a chance to practice what I learned on the previous box. I'm happy to say the successes on this one were greater than the failures.

On the last box, finished about two years ago, I discovered how easily I could overshoot the correct lid size. On that box I had to invent and insert bushings to keep the lid from rattling around too much. It turns out that cutting polycarbonate with a jigsaw is difficult to do. I don't remember the final solution, but I did eventually create two guide bushings that fit in the slots of the box and solved the majority of the problem. You can see one of them clearly in the left slot of the picture below.

So this time through I carefully sneaked up on the correct width, and when I planed the bevels, I was again careful not to get too overeager. The result was a lid that slides nicely, but (at least in the winter) will not fall out when the box is turned sideways. I'm hoping I didn't leave it too snug, or it will become one with the box for the summer. We won't know until then.

On the last box, I also had trouble with the finger pull, which I planned to make triangular. I found to my chagrin that the finished pull appeared off center because I carved the pull before applying the bevels (which were off center). I had to fix the problem by modifying the pull, which turned out to be interesting and beautiful, but much more worry and work than I had originally planned:

Somehow I managed to perform these tasks in the correct order this time, and was extremely careful in carving out the pull. There was a moment when I almost panicked, because in "touching up" I managed to lengthen one corner of the triangle, but I managed to bring it back in balance by keeping my cool and carefully extending the other corner:

Lessons learned on this one:
  • Leave the sides slightly proud so they can be made absolutely flush with the side rails after assembly (one corner was slightly below where I wanted it, and subtracting material is more easily done than adding it).
  • Don't balance things to dry on the same surface you are using as a work table. There was a repair job involved, but I'm happy to say that steaming can work wonders and only someone who knows what they're looking for will discover exactly where all the damage was done.
  • Scraping is a good thing on figured cherry. My eyes saw tear out after the balancing act that had been invisible before I started looking critically. I learned that I can get the scraper to cut shavings instead of sawdust—that never happened before—and I cleared up most of the tear out. I noticed some very slight remainders when it was too late to correct: my finishing preparations will be even better next time.
  • Learn to cut to a line (see my last post). These dovetails were respectable, but had several problems, including a couple spots that had to be wedged to hid the gap (M&D: can you find the two wedges? It's a lot like playing "Where's Waldo" even for me, and I put the wedges in...) Next time I hope to cut closer to the line, and on the waste side.
  • The bottom corners were not as snug as I wanted them, and I hope to figure out why there was a slight gap. That said, they still look good:
That's all for tonight. Tomorrow I'm on my way to Rockler to buy a $200 6" Delta jointer that is usually $400.

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