Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Quick Child's Table

Last Saturday my friend, Mark, visited with his son. Mark's inventive streak runs long and he doesn't let limited experience stop him from making things. He brought the parts for a table he planned to build with August, and he and I took 15 minutes in the shop to sand all the parts.

Above you can see the table he assembled on Sunday with his son's help. The basic design is butt joints and screws. I don't think there is any glue. This table reminds me of many of the furniture pieces I saw in Belize in January: simple, practical, and without pretense. The joints are braced with both brackets and triangular braces. I expect it will hold up to everything August throws at it until after he outgrows it.

Mark plans to make a chair for this little table using the similar construction techniques and more scraps from around the house. Nice work, Mark. Send pictures of the chair when you finish it.

Photographs courtesy and © 2009, Mark Shar.

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Crate Breakdown and Sword Commission

The wood stove was installed on Friday and I spent Saturday morning breaking down the crate and pallet. Sadly, the Aussies who built the crate used Torx screws—the one profile that I didn't have a drill bit for—so the drill in the picture never saw use.

I did have the required T25 profile in a manual screwdriver though, and took out at least 15 of the screws by hand. Those screws are still good and I'll use them and the crate parts (pictured above) for a garden project this spring. I expect the lower pallet wood, which was lower quality, will be used for kindling. With luck the stove will pass inspection on Monday and we'll be soon be disposing of project cut offs by warming the house.

On Friday I received a down payment on a commissioned wooden fantasy sword. I spent about an hour last night testing a method for attaching the cross guard to the body of the sword. The prototype joint worked. I'll likely need to fettle the router plane for this project, though I may try using a pattern bit in the power router first—the router plane is far from ready to use.

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Friday, February 20, 2009

Before and After: Loading the Wood Rack

Last night I loaded the wood rack. Above, you can see how it looked at the beginning of the night. Below is what it looked like when I was done.

I didn't realize just how much wood I had stacked around the basement, and now I'm worried that the pile of ash that's sitting up at my friend Sean's house will not fit anywhere on the rack. The good news is, right now no wood remains piled in other sections of the basement. Here's a look at a few more before and after shots:

The walk way into the shop, lined with sheet goods, spalted maple, and freijo.

The same space with only unassembled metal shelves and insulating panel remaining.

The wall next to my bench and radial arm saw, lined with scraps and two large planks: one of cherry, the other of an unknown hardwood (maple?).

The same space ready to be vacuumed and painted.

And finally, the main section of the basement, piled with lumber: pine, poplar, ash (on the left under the boxes), and oak boards. At the bottom of this pile, a bunch of rough cut pine waits to be used for making (among other things) cold frames.

The same space, ready for reorganization and (my wife tells me) a pallet of wood bricks—fuel for the wood stove.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Journal Entry #8: Paint

I painted the corner behind the wood rack tonight. It is ready to receive wood tomorrow night.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Journal Entry #7: Do the Washing Up

Brian Eno, a musician and artist, has published several editions of Oblique Strategies, a set of cards designed to help break unproductive thought patterns. I've handwritten a set for myself and have been using it as a constant inspiration in life—there are so many things that I get bogged down with—and while the strategies were written for artists and musicians they are broad enough to apply to almost any endeavor.

One of these cards says "Do the washing up".

Mess discourages, distracts, and hinders progress on any project. If I can't get motivated, or if I feel overwhelmed in the shop, it almost always helps to take a break and clean everything up. Throw out the thin scrap strips from ripping down boards in the last project (why am I keeping them?), put all the tools back where they belong, file the hardware in the hardware box, and vacuum. Figure out where the pile of lumber should be (what, not the middle of the floor?), and paint the walls white to brighten things up.

And that's what I've been doing this weekend. I completed the woodrack, which will soon house the pile of project wood and open a bunch of basement floor space. The wall next to it is washed and ready for paint. And the workbench has been cleared completely: I'm ready for the next project.

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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Journal Entry #6: Ripping and Chopping

Progress. The 2 x 8 lumber I scrounged from my brother-in-law's recent construction debris will be just enough to build a wood rack. Today I ripped 5 of these into 10 2 x 4's and cut down two more to form 6 arms for storing wood. I've been thinking about design for a couple of months now, thinking I would get to this much earlier than I have, and had good input from two friends who have built their own.

Most of the work was done on the radial arm saw. Ripping first, cross cutting second. my design involves a cantilever support that if my imagination is right should put most of the force on the vertical posts and the wall of the basement. This involved notching the 2 x 8 sections so that part will be mortised into the post, and the rest will rest directly on the side of the post. I could have built a fixture to notch these on the radial arm saw, but in the interest of time and of practicing cutting to a line I used a panel saw to cut these by hand. All that practice with the dovetail saw paid off: I stayed acceptably straight and square on all six arms.

I'll post pictures of my rack and possibly a few drawings of my design later (possibly tomorrow). In the meantime, here are pictures of my friends' wood racks, which inspired this design. If all goes well, I will be done sometime tomorrow.

Pictures courtesy and copyright Glenn Lyford and Sean Slattery.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Journal Entry #6: Bookshelves and Magnets

Last weekend I took down the first bookshelf I built, cut the shelves 3 inches shorter, reassembled it, and set it up on the other side of the room. I also took a smaller bookshelf that used to be in the new spot, cut an access hole in the back of it (for an electrical socket) and moved that shelf into a new place in the living room.

The cause of all this reorganization? We're getting a wood stove and bake oven installed in the dining room, and had to make room for clearance. I'm sure to dispose of a few cutoffs there in the coming years—a big improvement over throwing them all away.

Work's been busy lately, so I've spent only a short time in the shop. When the magnet holder of a new Min Max Thermometer broke on my shin (don't ask) it gave me the excuse I needed to get back into the shop.

Rather than trying to glue together the flimsy plastic magnet holder I broke, I made one out of wood. I sawed a small block out of a 2 x 4 cutoff, drilled a hole in the end to fit the magnet, drilled a smaller hole cross grain to hold the tether, and then on a whim did some shaping with a coping saw, a four-in-hand rasp, a chisel, and some sandpaper. The result is an oddly satisfying and quirky looking replacement that I actually like better than the one that came with the thermometer:

On slate for tomorrow: a wood rack for the basement and possibly a start on the cold frames I've been planning.

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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Journal Entry #5: Jointer Assembly Complete


On Sunday I finished assembling the new jointer. I still need to adjust this for use, but I'm within an hour or so of having it fully functional.

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Sunday, February 1, 2009

Making an SCA List-legal Sword

On Thursday and Friday I built a sword for use at Saturday's "Marketplace at Birka". You can find pictures of this type of sword in action posted by Ursus at SmugMug. These swords are made of rattan, which shapes well with woodworking tools.

I've participated in medieval-style martial arts for 15 years, and by necessity I've been making these swords for just as long. There are some basic standards defined by the Society for Creative Anachronism in the Weapon's Standards section of the Marshall's Handbook. Here's how I build one of these swords:

I like to keep my swords consistent in length, so I generally mark the new length of rattan directly from the old sword blank. This is easier and faster than measuring.

Using my miter box, I cut the new rattan to length.

If this length includes the original cut from the rattan harvest, I cut that end square too.

SCA standards require the sword to be at least 1.25" in diameter. I shave my swords to that width and use a set of outside calipers to gauge that, so the first step is to set the calipers at 1.25" using a reliable rule.

I then test the length of rattan to get an idea of how much I will be removing from the sides and to make sure that none of the length is less than 1.25" in diameter.

Rattan, like trees, tends not to grow perfectly straight. I sight down the length to see how it bends. I want to find the position in which most of the stave is in the same plane. In this case I chose the position on the right: there is a slight jog part of the way down the stave, but that will be corrected in shaving by removing more on one side of the jog and not shaving the other side. In the left example, you can see that the stave bends off to the right. I put this bend on the front edge of the sword to make the tip really bite when it hits and gets a little extra extension if my opponent blocks.

I mark the correct orientation so I don't have to keep checking. The top of the triangle points to the tip, and the marked edge is the back of the blade.

Then I shave down the sides taking light cuts. Pulling shavings is fun, and easily overdone. Here I'm shaving the jog section a little deeper than the rest to correct the problem observed in the previous step.

You can't see the triangle in this picture, but it is facing the bench. The side marked with the triangle does NOT get shaved; it is the back of the blade and I want to shave the sides to weight the sword more like a real one. Remembering that the triangle does not sit on the top when in the vise is hard for me: It's almost automatic to place the rattan in the vise with the triangle facing upward. Shaving the back side before realizing the error, while not catastrophic, does work against the balance we tried to achieve when determining orientation. On a piece like I'm working here, the mistake would result in the sword bending sharply to the right; a sword with that characteristic will tend to twist in use as the mass tries to torque into line with the striking force.

I usually check the width after shaving the first side, hoping that I have not already reached 1.25". If I have, I'm done, but ideally I want to remove the same amount of material from each side. In the picture above, I've shaved both sides and am checking again. The intent is to have the calipers just barely slip past on the full length.

Next I mark the handle, again using the previous sword for direct measurements.

My basket hilt has a roughly round band of metal at the top and bottom with a tang at each end for strapping it to the sword, and I want to make the handle section barely slide into this. I reset the calipers to roughly match the inner diameter of the round bands.

Then I shave the top and bottom of the handle section to allow the calipers to slide past at any angle. Above I'm testing whether I got it right.

Once I have the right measures at top and bottom, I shave the section in between. I always work on the back side of the sword because I want to leave the skin on the front surface of the handle: the skin is tougher than the interior and I want to preserve some of that strength in the handle, which is one place where swords tend to break.

I test to make sure the handle fits into the hilt. I want it tight enough to require a hammer, but not too tight. This one turned out like I wanted. It pushed on this far by hand, and I'll strike the tang to drive it into final position.

I also like to weight the sword slightly toward the front of the blade. Here I've marked out the section I'll remove from the back of the handle.

I use a back saw to cut an inflection point. I tend to cut this a little humped on the bottom of the kerf (not flat as I would in cutting a shoulder) because this section will be rounded, not flat in profile. I do this by cutting most of the way down and then angling the saw to cut to the lines at an angle.

Here's the kerf.

I chop to the kerf with a chisel from the back.

I remove the rest of the waste using a draw knife from the front.

Hands aren't actually round, and handles feel better if they are elliptical in profile. Here I've marked waste areas directly onto the section I've just shaped.

I now remove rattan from the sides. Again, I use the draw knife from from the front and the chisel from the back.

I re-mark the triangle so I remember where the back of the blade is, and make final shaping with a chisel and sandpaper.

Once the hilt is on, almost all of the woodworking is done. I need to tape the sword to prevent splintering when it is in use.

OPTIONAL: I put a length of nylon webbing on my swords. This adds weight to the front and back of the sword and helps prevent severing of the fibers when the sword strikes metal.

OPTIONAL: I use strapping tape to hold the webbing in place. I've seen some people do this without the webbing, but I don't think the tape alone provides enough protection to make it worth the effort.

Duct tape is then applied to the sword. I apply four strips: one on the front, one on the back, and one on each side (in that order). At the tip, each strip of tape runs up and over the tip. Finally I wrap a section of duct tape once around the tip to hold all of the sections in place.

Electrical tape in a contrasting color is run up the front, over the tip, and down the back to mark the striking surfaces of the sword.

Many people use hose clamps or muffler clamps to hold on their handles, but I've had terrible luck with these clamps falling off under impact. Instead, I use strapping tape to hold the hilt firmly onto the sword. This lasts better than the clamps, and can be repaired without tools as long as I have strapping tape with me.

To making the tape last better I twist it. The overlapping fibers prevents a layer from tearing through all at once. To make this twist I turn the tape counter-clockwise, which puts the sticky side face outward. After twisting a section about a foot long, I wrap the twist on and finish it it with a final section of unwound tape.

I do the same for the bottom of the handle.

To complete the project, I put my maker's mark on the butt of the blade. This is struck with a hallmark and then filled in with pen.

I also give each sword a name and put it on the sides of the sword in runes. This one is called Toad Sticker. The "permanent" marker doesn't stick well to duct tape, and tends to wear off when anything scrapes against it. To prevent this I also put a length of clear packing tape over the runes: the tape prevents the runes from scraping off. The sword is done.

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