Friday, May 28, 2010

Rambling Quickie #5 - If you can't stand the heat ...

My father was a Fin through and through even though. Like many who have chosen to find a new way of life in Canada, he was immensely proud of his heritage, loved all things Finnish. He would read Vappa Sana, eat pickled herring, drink Finlandia vodka and take a Sauna (not all at the same time though - although he had been known to sneak vodka into the sauna). He was my childhood hero.

Growing up, it was a requirement to take sauna. Traditional Finnish sauna meant dry heat to clear the pores. Sometimes it was just family. Sometimes friends were included. When it was family, we'd all be together. If friends were included, the women and men would take turns as it was done 'au natural'.

Occasionally, someone would throw water onto the heated rocks to create a blast of steam which turned the air from comfortably hot to lung choking, skin searing agony. 

This very act would either send me to a lower bench or scurrying from the room in search of breathable air. I think Fins try to make bathing an act of bravery. If I left, my father would sternly say, "If you leave, you can't come back!" So I would hunch down on the lowest bench and hold my breath as I didn't want to be excluded or be less of a man (I was 12). The moisture would quickly dissipate either through a crack under the door or sucked into the dry ceder panelling on the walls. I would stay on that lower bench, but sit up a bit straighter. If I made it through the entire session without leaving, I would somehow feel like I had completed a step on the passage to adulthood. It didn't always happen.

25 years later, I can take the heat, but still hold my breath when the water is tossed onto the rocks. There's just something about hot humid air that I can't seem to handle.

This week, has been hot and humid. Not that clean heat of the sauna. The hot, sticky and nasty humidity that co-mingles with the polution in the city air. You can't cool yourself down by sweating as your sweat won't evaporate. The dirty, muggy air clings to you making you feel filthy just by being outside. Stain and water based finishes won't dry after the initial tack up because they can't push more moisture into the air. Seems many things had stacked up against me this week in making progress on the nursery cabinet.

My house has also conspired against me in the attempt to emphasize the discomfort I'm feeling. The air conditioner expired quietly on its own over the winter and was only replaced yesterday.

So, without a solace to retreat to, I decided against working out in the shop this week and hope to get back to it next week with a break in the weather predicted. This weekend is slated for garden work. It will be sweaty work, but at least I can retreat into air conditioned comfort at the end of the day and enjoy a cold beer and look forward to getting back into the shop.

Hopefully my tools haven't started to rust during this spell of humidity. Somehow, I think they'll handle it better than I do.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Clock Project - Final Update

I can understand why many find the finishing process so tedious. If you don't have a dedicated finishing area that is separate from your work area, you can't really do anything else unless you have a super-duper dust collection system. Even then, I think you may have problems with dust. It really feels like so much shop time going to waste.

I've enjoyed the finishing process on this project as I was really able to watch the purpleheart come to life and the clock face's mysterious chatoyancy blogged about previously.

Yesterday afternoon, I looked over all of the various parts for the clock and judged them in no further need of finishing. 4 days with a couple of coats of wiping varnish per day. 2 sides in the morning, flip in the late afternoon and do the other 2 sides. Smooth out the dust nibs. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

I had to scuff the tenons on the slats as some wiping varnish did get onto some of them, and then I began a dry assembly. Well, I didn't think I sanded too much, but a number of my tenons had a loose fit! Sigh.

Titebond is not a gap filling adhesive, so that would really not be an acceptable adhesive considering the situation. Epoxy to the rescue! One dose with some high density filler did the trick. I clamped it up and for giggles, I attached the clock mechanism and pendulum to ensure that it swung freely.

Despite all of my careful measurements, I didn't account for the knob at the bottom of the pendulum. Argh! I watched helplessly as it bounced of each of the slats. So I sat on my greenbin/shop stool to think this one through.

A little bend to the pendulum arm solved the problem and in short order, it was swinging freely.

This morning, I unclamped everything and applied the roman numerals and the hands. The only things left to do is get some very small screws to fasten the mechanism to the  back of the face and attach the hanging hardware. Here's the finished product.

I've briefly considered keeping it for myself (briefly heh) but I think my will cousin like it.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Rambling Quickie #4 - Eureka!

Archimedes made the phrase Eureka famous by solving a problem posed by his king and in a flash of inspiration while drawing a bath ran naked through the streets shouting "Eureka! Eureka!" which in Latin means 'I have found it!'. Or so the story has been famously told anyway.

In my previous blog entry, I made reference to how the lighting was causing the clock face to darken on one side or the other as I moved the lighting around.

Well, later that night, I realized, that it wasn't the position of my 500W halogen construction lamp, but rather the perspective of the viewer (i.e. me) or the camera.

My first thought was 'That's interesting. Prior to finishing, there were no hints that this was going to happen. My next thought was, 'Okay, how did this happen?'

It took me a while to realize this, but here's the mental picture I came up with or my Eureka! moment. The grain is not running parallel to the length of the board. Instead, it runs at an angle similar to this sketchup drawing here.

After resawing, the board would look like this:

While the grain appears vertical, it's actually running in 2 different directions on my book matched clock face. Then as wiping varnish is soaked up by what was a VERY thirsty board and cured with multiple coats being applied, I hypothesize that the light is being captured only to be reflected back out at certain angles. Sort of like how a cut gem stone acts. I'd heard of chatoyancy before, but I never experienced seeing it until now.

My final thought was 'How cool is that?"

Most discoveries start out with someone saying "Hmm, that's interesting". I know that I won't profit greatly from announcing this discovery, but I've seen precious few articles about chatoyancy in wood. Maybe it will help someone after all.

I have some more of that spalted maple from the same tree. I just have to figure out something really cool to make with it.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Clock Project Update - Hurry Up and Wait

1990, I joined the army. During basic training, our day would start with a morning run. The first day, it was 5 km. On getting back to the barracks the PT Instructor would bawl "Okay (derogatory expletive)! You have until o-eight-hundred. How you use that time is up to you, but I suggest you throw some grub down that gaping maw of yours and have a shower. We need you smelling nice for the colonel!" in a voice that could be heard clear across the parade square with a marching band present.

We'd stumble back into barracks in a sweaty gasping mess to get showered while he sauntered off who knows where without so much as a stain in his armpit and as fresh as a daisy. I don't think he even had any sweat glands.

After breakfast, we'd all be formed up ready to march (probably double-time) to our first class. Of course, nobody wanted to be accused of being late, so we were formed up by 7:55. 8:15 would roll around before we were collected like an article in the lost and found.

Real life is full of hurry up and waits. If you got laid off from work, you need to submit your proof of employment as soon as possible to the Employment Insurance office. Then you had to automatically wait 2 weeks before they would even look at your paperwork. Don't try to submit it close to the end of the 2 week waiting period because the period begins from the time you submit. Not the time that you lost your job!

I'm digressing though. Even before I get to my update. Over the past couple of days, I've been applying finish to 7 of the slats. The 3 shortest slats had already been finished and glued into the mounting frame for the clock face. Finish had already been applied to the frame as well.

I have been lucky however, I've been able to sneak out at lunch and before work to check on progress, sand down dust nibs and apply additional coats. I'm up to 4 on the sides of the slats and will be starting the front/backs of the slats tonight.

There was a bonus however, the clock face has 6 coats of wiping poly applied to the front as of yesterday. So last night I glued up the face to the mounting frame after making sure no finish made it onto the gluing surfaces.

After drilling the hole for the clock shaft, lined up the frame and marked out the location that it would meet the back of the face. Removing the hardware, I proceeded to glue and clamp up the face assembly. You can almost make out that there's something being held by the mess of clamps in this picture.

This morning I took off the clamps and was mighty happy with the results! I won't be applying as many coats of finish to the back of the clock as it won't be seen once hung up.

Notice how in one pic, the right side looks dark and in the next the left side looks dark? It's a book matched panel, and I'm still trying to get my lighting figured out. I was using a 500W halogen contractors lamp to light the work, but couldn't get the angle quite right to show that the piece does actually look uniform. If you have any thoughts or suggestions on project lighting for photography, please let me know through a comment, email or twitter me.

I'm itching to get back into the shop and continue making progress as I see the end of this project in sight, but I will cool my heals and maybe go for a walk with my family and tomorrow I can continue to 'hurry up and wait'.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Rambling Quickie #3 - Managing Time

Time is a cruel task master. While most things happens in its own time, I remember reading that man has this obsessive need to compartmentalize it into many segments. Milena, centuries, decades, years, months, days, etc. It's been 3 hours since I had dinner. 16 days to the 5th year anniversary of meeting my wife. A sidereal day is 23 hours, 56 minutes, 4.09054 seconds long. My cousin is getting married in 1 month and 3 days.

A month! Where does the time go? Too bad in our obsession to compartmentalize time, we can't actually put it into a compartment to save it for a rainy day (to quote a cliche).

Having a baby girl arrive in your world will make time seemingly move faster. There's more to do and less time to do it in. Between work, spring cleaning, night time meals and actually trying to spend some quality time with family, it doesn't leave a lot of shop time available. Not that I'm complaining. I'm very happy to have my daughter added into my life.

So, I need to start making more progress on the clock project that I've been working on as a wedding gift. While time is marching onwards, I can still finish it without compromising on the quality.

Today, I managed to get into the shop after getting home from church. That is, after an unanticipated nap and a check on how the grass seed is fairing in the spot that used to be covered by part of an old deck that was ripped out last year. My wife and daughter were out for the afternoon to go to the Art Gallery of Ontario with her sister and mother (hence the ability for the unanticipated nap).

This project is actually progressing nicely. I sanded all of the slats to 180 grit and did a dry fit of all the parts. The lower 3 slats were too long and had to be cut shorter and the tenons cut on one end again. Better too long than too short I say! With those 3 parts re sanded, I can begin applying the wiping varnish tomorrow. There was just too much dust in the air today.

So I laid out the parts and begin the hurry up and wait game tomorrow. Dust settled? Apply a coat, wait 1 day, apply a coat and wait a day. Yes, wiping varnish dries quicker, but I have this thing called a job during the week. If I can sneak out at lunch time, great. Or maybe before work in the morning if I'm not needed by my daughter.

In the meantime, I'll learn patience. At least until they invent the box that I can store time in.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

An Adventure in Sharpening

Chop, chop, shave. A nice sunny day with the garage door open. I was cleaning up mortises for the Slat Clock that I'm making.

Chop, chop, chop. I love summer.

Wait. It's still spring. Well, I must say it sure felt like summer. T-shirt and no jacket. The days are coming when my golfing habit will war with my woodworking hobby. I delight in both activities. Shrug.

Chop, chop, nibble. I need a new golf bag. The rain cover tore last year and well, it was a cheapo anyway and my club collection is now a tight fit.

Nibble, chop, nibble. The warm breeze drifting lazily over me drying the sweat on my brow and keeping me cool.

Chop, nibble, tear ... Tear?

Looking into the mortise, I was cleaning up, I had been working on the end wall and some of the fibres had compressed and instead of the chisel neatly shearing them, it dug in and pulled. The fibres gave way at a weaker point within the board. I had been sweating because of dull chisels. Groan.

I groan, because the last time I tried to sharpen my 1/4" chisel, it ended up out of square. I used the Scary Sharp method and was discouraged by the results. The workpiece is actually salvageable as the tear happened partway down the mortise and is the end grain portion which isn't critical for gluing.

It also takes a lot of time and I would prefer to maximize my shop time building things rather than maintaining the tools. Granted, tool maintenance is a fact of the wood worker's life, but if there's a quicker way to get back to the project, I'm all for it!

So, it was off to the computer to do a little research. After much surfing and deliberation, I decided to pick up a Work Sharp 2000 from my local Busy Bee retailer as it was on sale. It was also the best fit for my budget.

I received it this week as it was on back order. Setting it up was pretty easy and I decided to practise first on a couple of old chisels that I had bought through Craig's List for about $5 (for 4 of them total).

I'm not going to do a full review of the Worksharp2000 here, I'll do that on Lumberjocks adding my opinion to others who have also bought it. However, I will say that it can be a great tool for honing the back and general light duty grinding. For polishing the bevel, it's my opinion that there are not enough different grits for the slotted wheel to give the bevel a proper grind and polish as you can see from the below picture. Notice the curved grind marks.

A preliminary attempt at honing the back yielded much better results as you could see what you were doing despite using non-slotted discs (from the top side rather than the tool guide). You can actually see the bottom of the lumber rack in the reflection. I know, it's not all the way there yet, but well on its way.

The long and short of it is that I'll use the Worksharp2000 for rough grinding of the bevel and for honing the back of my chisels and plane irons. I'll stick to the scary sharp method for fine tuning my bevel and now that my 4 knock abouts are square and cleaned up, I can practise using them instead of my Lee Valley chisels. It will still get me back to my project quicker than the manual method. At least next time it will.
Do you have any shop maintenance tricks that get you back to your work quicker? Leave me a comment with your tips.

Scary Sharp Method Links

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Rambling Quickie #2 - Bench Stability - Pt II

Author's note - Tonight, as I write this, my wife is out with her sisters and I'm exercising my skills in fatherhood. I'm also watching my nephews. Currently, the boys are sleeping and my daughter has just finished her 8 PM snack. Yes, this means I'm not in the shop again tonight, but that's okay. I did spend a little time in the shop yesterday and as limited as it was, I did manage to work a little further on my knot repair exercise.

Welcome to Fight Club

As I recounted in my last Rambling quickie, I had started planing the epoxy filled knot, but my bench had started walking across the shop floor with each stroke of my hand plane.

Getting back into the shop last night (even if only briefly), I discovered that the legs of the bench had skewed and now the bench rocks from side to side like a cradle in a wind storm just by looking at it. Giving one set of legs a nudge caused the other set to rack. By the end of it all, I was sweating and cursing.

I am Mike's sense of bitter defeat.

I resignedly unscrewed the router table top from the legs and proceeded to kick at the legs as I was too tired to bend down and pick them up. They finally fall back into place and shift into their proper place. I decide to screw only one side down.

Back to the task at hand. Fixing the knot. Here's how it looked before the epoxy fill. Actually, it's the reverse side of the board. Either the knot is whole at the centre of the board, or the epoxy wasn't thin enough to get all the way through but this is what it essentially looked like before filling. The after with some planing done is right below it.

In the right photo, I was planing cross grain using a scrap of walnut to brace the board. Because I was planing towards the wall, there was no problem with bench stability. My previous theory from the last ramble worked!

I am Mike's sense of complete satisfaction. Or so I thought.

Finishing up the planing, I noticed that there were air bubbles that had been left behind.

Not quite sure how I would fix that. Slower stirring of the epoxy maybe? I'll have to flip over to side 2 and try again. The knot itself is probably a throwaway, but I can cut that out and save at least a small cutoff.

I am Mike's sense of optimism

The Shop - If only I could just have some more space!

Shops vary in size. Some are small and some are large. No matter the size, they never seem to be big enough. Either there's not enough room for storage or there's that band saw or jointer on the wish list that if only you could shoehorn it into place, you would jump at it and make the purchase.

My shop is no different. At 250 square feet, a beginner like me should consider that all the room needed. My problem is that it's a one car garage that needs to be shared with gardening tools, a wheel barrow, various supplies for outdoors and cleaning and yes, of course, the car ... at least in the winter - Marsha hates to have to clean off the snow and, frankly, so do I (but I'd be willing to make the sacrifice and brush the snow off every time if I really had to).

In fact, when winter comes again, I have no idea on how I'm going to break everything down and cram it into a 7' x 10' space. I may have to get creative.

There are currently old kitchen cabinets on the rear wall where my mitre saw resides. I am usually making cuts on boards under 6' in length, and when I need to cut longer boards, I relocate it to my workbench temporarily but that's usually just at the beginning of the project.

I have plans to tear these out as I view them as space inefficiently used. the drawers are useful, but the configuration of the lower and upper cabinets insure that they are packed with a Hodge-podge of items. I envision a bench suitable for assembling projects with roll out cabinets for additional working surfaces and a french cleat storage board on the wall above the assembly bench. I took the idea from Fine Woodworking's website where there are plenty of ideas on shop setup. This is my version made using sketchup.

Each of the cabinets roll out and #1 has a different configuration of storage compartments and #3 is a router table with storage for bits and bases. At least, that's the dream du jour. Who knows, it may change tomorrow.

The right wall currently has my workbench and cutoffs storage as well as an overhead lumber rack.

The bench is essentially 2 separate & frankly sorry sheets of 2'x4'x3/4" plywood. I've bought all of my plywood to date from the big orange box store. An unsightly warp has developed in each one that isn't currently screwed down to the basement floor. I'm sure they're lying (pun intended) in wait to do the same. But I digress. The sheet closest to the wall has been turned into a makeshift router table and is screwed down to the sawhorses using flooring screws. The second sheet is clamped down to facilitate easy removal and access to the router table. As you can see from the picture, I use the space under the bench to store my drill press, planer, band saw (all 3 are bench top models), shop heater and Rigid vacuum and Dust Deputy. The green bin typically used for compost waste picked up by the city is currently being used as a shop stool and also as a shavings bin for when I'm hand planing.

Looking towards the front of the shop, this is where my table saw is located. I can open the garage door to execute long rips or deal with sheet goods which I typically do on the floor with a circular saw and some scrap 2x4's. The table saw is so light that shoving a full 4'x8' sheet of birch plywood threatens to tip the saw over. Not a pleasant prospect! The first time that nearly happened, I got as scared as I'm sure I would have if it was kickback (requiring a check of the shorts after the heart returns to normal speed). This area is also used for the inevitable garage inhabitants. The garbage and recycling cans. The lawnmower and wheel barrow get moved around depending on what I"m doing at the time.

There's also this monster in my shop (cough, I mean garage, cough). It's great, but I think I built it a little too big!

As I grow, I see myself building a proper bench so that I can do some of the more 'force aggressive' methods (like planing a board - see my Rambling Quickie #1 on the subject), A proper clamp rack (there are 2 areas where I keep my clamps. The long ones hang from the garage door beam seen in the photo above and the cutoffs bin for the small clamps).

I'd love to hear suggestions on how you would organize a shop of this size and shape. Before you say it, I already know and would like to clear everything non-woodworking related out. I have hope on that one. They say hope is a cardinal virtue even when it's misplaced.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Rambling Quickie - Handplaning boards and workbench stability

Today, I took my lunch break and scooted off to the garage for a little therapy away from spreadsheets and financial forecasts.

There's a cherry board that I did a little knot repair to for practise. The board has some dry rot along one edge and I figured if I could fill the knot as per the technique in TWW episode 113, I could cut away the rot and salvage at least part of the board.

After filling the knot, I was left with a high spot of epoxy and it has cured fully (I applied the epoxy last week). So I took my smoothing plane (the board is still in rough cut state), and started taking shavings. With each swipe, some hardened resin came away.

It was going well until the hollow that the knot is sitting in became evident and wood shavings around the knot started coming up. The blade is still sharp, and it was cutting well but planing a board takes considerable force. Too much for my workbench to handle (plywood on 2 sawhorses).

My bench started walking across the floor. If I want to be able to plane this board without destroying my 'bench', I will need to find a way of stabilizing it. Maybe I'll try again after work and align the board so that my push action is towards the shop wall.

Back to my spreadsheets for now.

Learning without Leadership - Exploring the web

Back in January, I started building a Nursery Cabinet without really any knowledge of how to build a cabinet. My wife Marsha was 5.5 months pregnant (our first) and we wanted an open closet with a cabinet inside. We originally came up with the design while having dinner at Montana's restaurant. They have the brown paper table coverings (I won't dignify them by calling them table cloths) and provide crayons for kids to entertain themselves with. We came up with the following design:
The hanger rods would be placed into the left hand side (I just never got around to putting them in the drawing).

Some rudimentary web searching told me what I thought I needed to know, but I've managed only to cut down the plywood components, make 3 drawers and the drawer faces (more on that in a project blog later).

There it stopped. I had no idea how to make the face frame. Nor did I have enough clamps to start assembly. I was crushed.

So, I began looking for podcasts, blogs, articles ... you name it. I happened to find The Wood Whisperer. In the span of a month, I downloaded and viewed every episode he had to offer and was hungry for more. I also exceeded my bandwidth for the month and had to pay an extra $30. Small price to pay for the knowledge gained.

I also ended up joining the The Wood Whisperer Guild in March. The guild local to my area was a bit far away. Their web page calendar was about 2 years out of date and they didn't seem to be very active in holding seminars or classes.

Since the beginning of March, I've subscribed to many blogs, podcasts and with my travel time for other activities, feeding our child at night (she was born March 12th). I've been able to catch up on the entire history of Wood Talk Online, and the Spoken Wood podcast (gee, looking at it this way, I have WAY too much time on my hands - but it was all time I was physically occupied with somewhat mindless activities).

In answering Marc & Matt's question in WTO episode 68, I believe that yes, it is possible to learn woodworking (at least the basics) from books/videos alone (if you include blogs as books and video podcasts as videos).

I guess with joining the guild in March, my foray into learning without leadership is not completely true, but I believe it mostly holds as true because I don't go running to Marc everytime I need to know how to do something (Marc, I'm sure you would be very thankful as helpful as you've been - you would have to charge me 2 memberships LOL!). The self education process is still very evident.

As a side note, I haven't bought an actual woodworking book until about a month ago. I've since built a couple of projects, but it will soon be time to get back to that Nursury Cabinet and complete it before my daughter is moved to her own room ... and preserve the peace between my beloved and me.