Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Bar and the Cat

My father, I’ve been told, has always been interested in woodwork.  Born in the early 1920’s he grew up in the era of prohibition.  As prohibition ended a local family came to him and asked him to refinish a bar they had in their home.  Apparently at the beginning of prohibition they walled off the room the bar was in so as not to lose it.  In any case the years of being away from all care had taken its toll and was in desperate need of refinishing.  
Dad, being eager to earn some extra money to buy some new tools, gladly accepted the job.  Great effort was put into bringing this magnificent wooden heirloom back to its once beautiful self.  Cleaning, stripping, sanding, more cleaning more stripping and more sanding, the job went on for weeks.  
Finally after  weeks of work he was applying varnish on the last few inches of the bar, when the family’s cat jumped on the far end of the bar and swaggered from one end to the other.  Each princely step left a little paw print in the newly coated finish.  The cat walked down the length of the bar and my father saw hours of work growing with each step.  As the cat passed in front of my father, my dad dipped his brush in the varnish and slapped the cat on the back end.   The cat of course jumped halfway to the ceiling and began to run away.  Dad, knowing he couldn’t leave the varnish on the cat’s bottom, grabbed the cat to clean him off.  So what do you use to clean up varnish? Well turpentine of course!  With a soaking rag of turpentine the cat got his bottom cleaned.  As I understand it the  cat never stepped foot in that room again.  

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Covered Bowl Turning

The first tool I ever really remember being taught how to use is the  lathe.  I must have been about 5 years old and yet I can remember standing on a box in front this huge machine with a gouge in my hand that felt like it was half my height.  One off the best parts of this memory was have dad standing behind me guiding every move I made.  The lathe in our family was part of a rite of passage and for me remains one of the most enjoyable tools in the shop.

With all the turning projects I've done, or seen done by dad, I don't recall doing a covered bowl.  So I thought I'd give it a try.  Andrew had a blank leftover from his candle project that was a bit thicker than the others.  It has a knot running through it and was hard to tell just how deep it ran, but I thought I'd using anyway.         


So the process is pretty simple and straightforward.  Mount the face place on the blank.  Rough turn the diameter and since I've been using the turning chuck turn the socket for it.  Then flip it over onto the chuck and it's creativity time.  At this point I began turning the lid.  I then took it off the lathe and chip carved in a cross.  Back to the lathe and finished the lid.  Then using a parting tool I cut down a step on the back of the lid.  I sanded and finished the lid at this point because once I parted it away from the rest of the body I wouldn't be able to turn it anymore.  Then using a parting tool I separated the lid and bowl.  Now all I had to do was turn a bowl.  The only thing I needed to do was be sure the rim was just big enough for the lid.

As I was finishing the bottom of the bowl the knot I was afraid of showed up.  So I went ahead and finished the turning.  I remember a video from the wood whisperer site that talked about filling and stabilizing a knot with epoxy.  Here is the link if you want to take a look:
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           113 - Fixing a Knot March 14, 2010 A clever way to stabilize a knot so that it looks natural. →                                                                        

I haven't filled the knot yet but plan on it.  In any case here is the finished product.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Yeah I Could Make That or Diane's Work Table

As a couple goes through life together you get to know each other pretty well.  One of my many idiosyncrasies that Diane has had to deal with as we have gone through life together is listening to me say, as we pass by an piece of furniture, "yeah, I could make that".  Of course without a shop I never did.  Years passed and her responses have gone from a jubilant, "really that would be wonderful" to an affirming but knowing smile and nod of the head.

Enter the era of the shop and a new year for her at work with a few changes to her work area.  She asks if I could make an inexpensive work table that would fit into some fairly specific dimensions.   My response was quick and enthusiastic, " Yeah! I could make that"!

The first trip to the home center was to look at materials and get an idea how just how much would it cost.  I was thinking of using poplar, a good choice for painted or unseen construction.  By the time I would have had enough to glue up for a top and build the legs I was over fifty dollars, which does not fall into the inexpensive category.  I went home a bit dejected.  A few days later we were passing the other big box home center store and we stopped in.  As we were walking toward the lumber section we passed a display with cut MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard) that was just over the dimensions needed for the top.  Best of all it was only a bit over six dollars.  Down grade the base from poplar to common clear pine and the material price was cut in half.  Needless to say my spirit picked up a bit.

The pine they had was only 3/4 inch, which is too thin for the legs I wanted to build so I figured I'd just clean it up a bit and glue two pieces together.  So I brought the 3/4x3x8 (that 3/4 inches thick, 3 inches wide and 8 feet long) into the shop.  Spinning 8 foot boards around in a small space can be a real trick and that's all I'll say about that.  Anyway, without moving a lot of things around I couldn't get them on the table saw so I pulled out the old trusty hand saw.  Add an inch or two to the finish length, mark and with a few strokes of the saw I had four, almost equal, lengths for the legs.  Using standard yellow wood glue I squeezed out a zig zag pattern and spread it out with my finger.  I always keep a roll of paper towels in the shop which made cleaning the glue off my finger pretty easy.  I didn't have enough parallel clamps to clamp each leg by themselves so I just stacked two together and clamped them in sets.

So after the leg blanks had dried the next step to was figure out what shape I wanted.  This was a simple table so I wanted a simple leg shape, a taper along the width.  The outside of the leg would run straight and the taper would run along the inside of the width of the table.  To do this I pulled out a tapering jig I had made some time earlier for another project.

You can buy these jigs, and I'm sure they're really nice, but for one poplar board, or something else, a hinge, a lid stay and a few screws you can make one for pretty cheep.  You can see in the picture that the work piece is held at an angle to the fence.  As the piece is passed through the saw the jig moves along with the work held at an angle.  The results in a taper being cut rather than a straight cut.  Kinda of cool.  (Maybe if you want me to I'll write a blog on this, let me know.)

I really wanted this table to be strong.  Diane didn't want a stringer between the legs, wanting an open area below the table for boxes and such.  So I decided to use dovetails to hold the apron and legs together.  This is a pretty easy cut using a router table and make a real strong joint.  The best tip I can give you is that once you set the depth of the cutter DON'T CHANGE IT UNTIL ALL CUTS HAVE BEEN MADE.  That's on both the pins and the tails.

Use setup pieces to get the tail position right where you want it.  Start by placing the fence with rulers, taking a cut on the setup piece and measuring to see if you got it where you want it. Then measure from the trailing edge of the bit back to the full depth of the tail and placing a mark on the fence.  Then start your cut, advancing the work piece up to the line you drew and stop.  Don't forget to pull your piece back out the same way it went in, turning off the router is also a good idea.  Since I was using pine this cut was pretty easy.  One of the tricks with routers is to  creep up on your full depth of cut.  But with a dovetail you can't do this.  So as you are making your cut just go easy, let the machine do the cutting.  Also be sure you are minding safety protocols, the work area is clear, use push blocks, your safety glasses are on, hearing protection is in and don't stand on the side of the table where if there is a kickback the work will fly into your gut.

Cutting the pins is done in two passes, one each side of the board. As the apron boards are only three inches wide making a good and safe cut is almost impossible without a way to hold it.  So I made this quick jig out of a couple pieces of scraps.  The work piece is clamped to the post and allows controlled, safe, machining.

With the dove tails cut I cut a grove, known as a dado, 3/8 of inch from the upper edge of the apron.  This was to accept a L shaped piece to hold the top and base together.  These were made by cutting a rabbit designed to fit into the ditto on a long enough board to go through the table saw then cut them to about one inch wide.  At this point it was time to bring out the sanding block.  Yeah I could have done it with my power sander but this was pine and sands up really easy because it is so soft.  Sanding at this stage, that is before it is assembled, makes it a lot easier.  Then dry fit the base together and prep the clamps.  By preparing the clamps I mean determining a clamping strategy and setting them so that with a couple of turns the clamp is engaged.  Once you have the clamps in place don't trust that it is square.  With this piece the simplest way is to measure the diagonals.  If they are equal you should be square.  In my case I forgot to do this.  The results were that the base is slightly out of square, but fortunately not real noticeable.

On to the top.  As I said before I was making the top out of MDF.  To be honest I never really worked with MDF before.  From what I understood it takes paint very well on its surface but because the edges are more porous they can look dry compared to the surface.  A trick I found was to seal them with drywall compound, which is what I did.  This compound has an indicator in it, which is why it looks pink.  As it dries the pink turns white.  When it is completely dry and ready to sand it will be completely white.  Another mistake I made was to rough up the surface with a 200 grit sandpaper, a tip I read on line.  It didn't work out as I hoped, it left the surface much rougher that I thought it would after I painted it.  I put 2 coats of blue spray paint on it then a coat of clear.  It didn't turn out too bad and the paint took the edges pretty well.

Once the base came out of the clamps I touched up and glue drips by sanding them out.  I then applied three coats of polyurethane.   I like using a water based poly because it has much less fumes than a mineral based poly.  I did read that if I did use poly on the MDF not use the water based because it lifts up the surface, kind of like putting water on cardboard, and it just can't be sanded out.  But as I painted the top that doesn't much matter.

Finally, using the clips I made earlier I attached the base and top together.  I really liked the way they worked.  The technique would also would work well with a natural wood top.  Remember wood moves with moisture.  As the clips are not glued to the apron I'm thinking that as the top moves the clips should slide in the dado, keeping things from splitting.  This shouldn't be as much of a problem with MDF.

So this has been a fun project.  I know that every time I would say I could make that I was, at least in part, motivated by the desire to be able to give Diane something I thought she wanted.  It was a great pleasure to do that this time and actually complete it.  It now sets behind her in the office, holding books, or boxes, or stacks of mailings or what ever.  And can say yes I can.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Andy's Project

There is something about heritage, that path that others walked that leads to the place you are standing.  This blog started out being about heritage,  the heritage my father forged before me and the heritage I hoped to pass to my children, nieces and nephews, or anyone reading this blog, the heritage of woodworking.  I have been honored to have my son Andrew (Andy to most) working in the shop this week.  So this entry is Andy's Project.  

A few months ago Andrew read a the bible verse, Matthew 5:14 - "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden."  This gave him the idea of creating a tea light holder that would be rounded like part of the world.  He then put a post out on facebook stating the first five people to comment would get something he would make.  Andrew being Andrew it didn't take long for him to get his five comments.  Of course with there being 600 miles between him and the shop this was a project that would take a little coordination, and a trip to Upstate New York.

Andrew explained to me what he wanted to do and we had a few discussions as to what would be possible and practical to do in a few days of a busy vacation.  I knew I didn't have enough turning stock that would complete the job.  I did have some black walnut limbs that had been cut off a tree out front but I never got around to sealing the ends ( Dad always suggested using paraffin as the sealant and about two years of drying time. )  By not sealing them I paid the price, they were badly checked (big cracks running into the wood from drying to quickly).   But I thought I'd giving it a go anyway and went out with the chain-saw and trimmed up one hoping we would be able to get enough stock out of it for the project.  Once cut down a bit I took it to the band saw trimming off much of the outer layer, some of which had begun to rot.

Roughed Out Limb
At this point Andrew and I headed to the shop.  The first conversation we had was about safety.  So when I couldn't find the over the glasses safety glasses we headed out to the local home center to get a pair and pick up a face shield and new dust mask.  A little frustrating but when it comes to safety it is not worth making compromises.

Resawing at the Band saw
Once back to work we needed a piece of wood that we could cut down to a block that could be turned on the lathe.  The answer was to resaw the block at the band saw.  I only have a stock blade and I'm sure a resaw blade would have done a quicker better job, but the stock blade worked and we soon had a board about an inch and a half thick.  Andrew then made a rough cut freeing the block that would become the first tea light.
Turning Blank and Faceplate

Drilling Holes for Faceplate

When I was turning with dad we would glue a block on the back side of the turning with a sheet of cardboard in between.  The cardboard was the kind you would find backing up a pad of paper.  Glue can actually be stronger than the wood so when the turning was complete the cardboard would allow the turning and the faceplate block to easily be split apart.  We're now using a chuck system that will hold the turning without the need to glue the block on.  To use it you attach the faceplate on what will become top of the turning and do your rough rounding and flatten what will become the turning's bottom.  You then turn a socket into the bottom that the chuck expands into fitting much like a circular dove tail.  Once your sure where the faceplate is going to go the corners of the turning block are cut off.  The faceplate is screwed directly on the piece without care that the screw holes are going into the turning because once the chuck socket is turned the faceplate is removed and the holes are just turned away.

Roughing with the Roughing Gouge 
Once the block is on the chuck the turning begins to take shape.  Roughing gauges, gauges, skews, parting tools and scrapers, enough to make your head spin.  Don't let the edge catch, roll the tool with your fingers, drop your right hand; I would imagine Andy hears me calling out in his sleep.  It turns out the best teacher for any given tool is the tool itself.  Plunge into the work at the wrong angle you know not to do that again.  My job was to give the basics, stand by watching for anything that would get him into trouble and keep my mouth shut.

More Roughing

Cutting the Chuck Socket
The vision Andy had in his minds eye quickly started to appear in the wood.  He would ask a question, "I want to make ...." and I would tell him what I thought.  Before long he was sanding and finishing.  So this will let the secret out, I don't like finishing.  There I said it, that finial step, the shine you first see when looking at a finished piece, the all important finish I don't much enjoy put on.  So I came up with a quick little trick for turned pieces - beeswax.

Sanding is the first part of finishing, that as you recall I don't like, but on the lathe sanding goes quickly and can yield extraordinary results.  So the finish starts with having sharp tools and progressing from a course grit sandpaper to a fine grit sandpaper.  I have been hand shaping my tools since I got them and they are not what remember dad's being.  I know that dad eventually got a grinder but I also remember him using several stones.  His tools were always as sharp as could be, mine are slowly getting better; time will tell if the ever compare.  Andrew started with a 60 grit backed with a tightly wrapped washcloth.  By the time he was done he was down to a 220 grit.  Then he hit the turning a beeswax stick.  As the wax rubs against spinning wood it heats up and melts onto the wood.  You then take a rag and rub it in.  This time the heat generated burnishes the wood and evens out the wax turning  it into a glossing surface that really makes the grain pop and is reasonably well protected.

You are the light of the world...

So what started out as a simple little project became an awakening,  both for Andrew and for me.  Andrew realized the joy of woodworking and I the joy of extending the heritage path one more step.  I hope this will be the first of many opportunities Andrew and I have to be in the shop together.  Thanks guy for a great weekend!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Making Something to Make Something

I've been working on an idea for my next project, a cabinet with a drawer and a couple of shelves.  It will be mostly functional, a project because I want the end product, more than a project of craftsmanship.  Of course anything worth doing is worth doing well.  So while I'll be using leftover plywood and using as much of what I have laying around as I can I do hope it will be something that I can be proud of.  Anyway all that is for the next blog.  Today's blog is about making something to make something.

Dad was a master of this.  His shop was full of shop made jigs and templates.  I was always amazed by how cool some of the stuff he made was whose only purpose was to allow him to make the cut or hold the thing that he was actually trying to make.  So tonight I was following in his footsteps.  I will have to make dados and rabbits in the cabinet I want to make and I don't have a dado blade insert for my table saw.  The solution, make one.

Dado in the middle, rabbits on each end.

But what is a dado anyway?  As seen in the picture above it is really nothing more than a groove across a board.  This picture also shows two rabbits, no not the cotton tail variety, the grooves shown on the ends of the board.  So a dado is an enclosed groove and a rabbit is an exposed one.  The dado blade will let me stack a group of special blades together on the arbor of the saw (the shaft thing that holds the saw blades) and make a single pass with the boards.  This will cut the dado which I will then set a mating board into.  

So getting on with it.  To make the insert I chose to glue up a layer of hardboard, a layer of plywood and a finally two hardboard feet.  I traced the outline of the standard insert and cut them out on the band saw.  With all the pieces cut I glued them up and placed a piece scrap over the two.  This created a gap so I just set another piece of hardboard scrap in the middle and clamped them down.  

Taping insert to blank as a pattern.
Shaping at the router.
After the glue dried I used some double faced carpet tape to hold my metal standard insert to the insert I am making.  This tape is strong.  You can see the two white strips and when put together I have to use a putty knife to separate them.   

Then it is off to the router table.  I took the fence off and put the feed pin in.  You can see the feed pin in the picture.  It's that black post sticking out of the table at about 4 O'Clock of the pattern bit.  To keep control of the work as you bring it into the moving bit you rest it up against the pin and rotate into the bit.  Once the bit is cutting you can move it right along and it's OK to lose contact with pin.  You need to be careful as you change direction and move up on the end grain.  Remember the end gain blowout in Emma's Picture Frame Part II?  Anyway I just followed the taped insert all the way around using it as a pattern.  When I got done I separated two pieces and there you have it a new insert.  

Cutting the insert opening.  

Of course at this point the face is solid so the next step is to put the dado set on the saw and place the insert over the dropped blades.  I used a scrap board clamped to the end of the saw to hold it in place and turned the saw on.  Then slowly I raised the blades up and cut right through the new insert.  

The next step will be to place drops of silicone rubber on the feet and level the insert to the table.  Once the silicone is dry I should be able to set it in place and have it be at just the right height.  I actually did this once already, however the silicone was old and didn't cure.  So after wiping and a little be of scraping I'm ready to try it again.  Of course that will mean another trip to the big box store.  

So I'm hoping Dad would be proud.  I used a bunch of material laying around and made a tool that I would have otherwise had to pay 50 or so dollars for.  I have to admit this was kind of fun.  Another night in the shop, thanks Dad.  

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Emma's Picture Frame Part III

Finished all hung at Emm's

I continued with spraying polyurethane coat after coat, five in all.  Each time I would hit with 220 grit sandpaper or 0000 steel wool.  I cleaned up the glass put the print in and then backed it up with a piece of hardboard.  I had seen a brass tab that could be used to hold it all together but couldn't find them.  So I use a washer and small screw.  The hooks are kinda neat.  They are like opposing fingers that interlock.  I secure one on the frame then one on the wall.  As this a bit heavy I thought two would be better than one.

Hanger and Washers
Well thats about it.  Now I just have to get it down to Emma and hope she likes it.  I love the watercolors she brought back and think this frame does it justice.  Oh and my favorite feature, its the contrasting black walnut plugs that tie in the tenions.

I'm sure I could write another post about all the mistakes and flaws, but you know there is a time when you ask is it done?  And you stand there and say it's strong, it's smooth, it's what I envisioned.  You say to yourself yeah it's done.  And so it is.  Thanks Dad!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Emma's Picture Frame Part II

Well after letting the glue dry for a good 24 hours I took the claps off.  The first order of business was to square out the rounded corners of the rabbit in the back.  With all these power tools the best tool maybe the oldest a good shape chisel.  Well in my case it is not the oldest of my tools and by no means the best but it is fairly shape and should do the trick.  .

Not being able to put it off any longer, it is time to sand.  What I quickly realized was that I drew a lot of lines on the face of this project.  No big deal I figured I'd just sand them away.  So sanding was the order of evening.  

Ya gotta love electricity!  Only corse sanding for now.  The next step is sure to leave some scratches on the face so at this point I just want to get the lines off and smooth out the tool marks left by some not so sharp router bits.    

This is a feature I envisioned from the beginning,  contrasting plugs tying in the tenons.  Our neighbor lost a lim from their black walnut tree a few years back.  It fell onto our side of the line so I was there when they started clearing it they were cutting it up for fire wood.   I volunteered to finish cleaning it up for them.  This block is from that effort.

I used a plug cutter from Dad's shop and made these plugs.  I had to take the cutter and block into work to cut them, but hey what's a little government at work?  I then made this drilling template to be able to set the spacing on the frame.  You can see the all important forstner bit I had to by to be able to drill the quality of hole needed.  

After drilling the dozen holes I doped up the black walnut plug with glue and set them in place.  The fit was perfect, I had to drive them home with a mallet.  When I got back up stairs I was told that Toby went a bit nuts every time the mallet was a malleting - sorry Toby.  After the plugs were in place I placed a board across half of the frame and clamped it in the middle.  The next night it was time to trim them.  I then hit them with the block plane, bring them level with the rest of the frame.

Then it was time to sand and sand and sand.  

I remember telling this story about Dad.  Dad was a teacher by training and while he spent must of his career as an engineer, but for me and my brothers and sister he never stopped teaching.  I recall once Dad and I were down in the shop.  I was working on a project and had gotten to that point where I was sanding.  To be truthful, sanding is not my favorite thing.  I ask Dad if I was done sanding.  He responded "is it smooth",  kept sanding.  After a bit I asked again, and again he responded, "is it smooth", I went back sanding.  Again I asked and again Dad responded "is it smooth", this time however I said yes.  Dad then said "well then I guess your done".  Dad often taught this way, by bring out of us what was there all along, to coach, to let us see that we could succeed.  Thanks Dad!

So I sanded.  I went from 60 grit, to 100 grit, to 150 grit, then finally to 220 grit.  I used the power sander, I used towel backing,  I used hard backing,  I sanded until I could say "yes it's ready, it's smooth".  

Then I cleaned, yep that's right I cleaned.  With all the dust I just made I had to get as much of it picked up as I could so it wouldn't fall back on the frame as I started finishing.  

Finishing:  I stood in front of the finishes this afternoon for what must have been an hour, (OK maybe 5 or 10 minutes).  What I decided on was a spray glossy polyurethane.  Let's hope I get the results I want.  Coat one done.