Friday, 26 December 2014

Pre-Christmas Pen Turning Binge

Pen turning is the crack cocaine of woodworking.  You think you can just do one, but then one thing leads to another and that one gives you an idea and soon you have way more pens than you can give away.  And you just keep going until the staff at Lee Valley tell you  you're cut off because your wife has gotten to them.  Okay, that last part didn't really happen, not quite, but I am so sick of pens right now I probably won't turn any more until next year.  Of course, next year starts Jan. 1.

This year is the first time that I tried using Alumalite Pearlescent Powder in my acrylic pens to give them some sparkle.  You can really see it in this pen & pencil set.

There is lots of it in the black parts of the set as well, but it is hard to see because there is a little too much black dye in them as well.

Getting the right amount of dye proved to be a challenge in most of the acrylic pens I made.  I knew that it was powerful stuff, but it turned out to be easy to overdo it, as was the case in this pen.

It was supposed to be red and green, but the green is almost blue and the red a dark purple.  The next pen was more successful.

I wish I could have gotten a better picture but this one went in a Christmas gift exchange before I realized how bad the picture was.

I also attempted to use metallic powders to make an aluminum looking pen.  I mixed white dye with gunmetal powder to darken it and some silver powder to make it sparkle, but although it did make it grey I didn't get the sparkle that I was looking for.  The metallic powders are meant to be used as a surface treatment and don't have the same effect when mixed into the plastic.

And now, how about some pens featuring some actual wood.  This one is made from kingwood.


And last but not least padauk, finished with CA glue.

I tried using CA glue as a finish on the other wooden pens I made but I had difficulty getting an even sheen.  I wound up sanding them all down and using a wax finish instead.

If you noticed the date on this post you would have seen that as I write this it is after Christmas. Would you be surprised to learn that I got a book on pen turning from Santa?

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Time in a New Shop?

Well...  No.  Yes, there is a new garage behind my house.  Yes, it is a lot larger than my existing shop.  It's going to be used for... parking vehicles.

Many of my woodworking friends, and even some of their wives, have expressed a certain amount of confusion over this concept.  When I think about it the wives may have sounded a little sarcastic.

While all that empty space does have a certain appeal,  I'm sure it will vanish once winter really hits and the fact that the garage is neither insulated nor heated really sinks in.  Not having to scrape my windshield every morning has a lot of appeal too.

While my tools will not be moving to a new home, it doesn't mean that there will be no changes in my shop.  There will be a new home for a few things that don't really belong in there.

The lawn mower (or snow blower in the winter) will be out.  So will the leaf blower and the weed whacker.

These cupboards will also be moving out.  They hold the jerrycan and oil for the lawn mower, along with painting supplies and other things that may burn or explode easily.  They have always made me a little nervous anyway.

The last big item will be this crate that holds the pop cans ans such as they await their trip to the recycling centre.  All of the garden tools will be moving, along with the ladders, saw horses, and other tools that are not 'woodworking' tools.  This should free up most of the north wall.  I still haven't figured out what I'm going to do with it though.

Eventually this will probably trigger a major overhaul of my shop.  Given the pace that I generally get things done in there though I wouldn't hold my breath.  In the mean time I'm just going to enjoy the extra space.  After I clean up.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

The Shop is Buzzing...

But not necessarily in a good way.

I suppose that depends on your point of view.  My relationship with bees has always been one of "you leave me alone and I'll leave you alone", and that has worked out pretty well.  I don't get nervous when a bee shows up or buzzes by, and they have left me alone.

Now, however, they have moved into my shop.  The door doesn't seal very well (or not at all) and that is where they have come in.  They found a gap between the floor and the bottom of the wall and set up shop themselves.

Even when the door is open they prefer to land and walk in.  It seems rather polite.  I haven't been spending a lot of time in the shop this summer but when I have been in there usually one or two will occasionally enter or leave.  The other night though I was fiddling around in there and four of them were buzzing around keeping an eye on me.  I tried to get them to pose for a group shot but they are active little critters and this is the best I could manage.

I have to admit, being in a small space with that many bees made me a little nervous.  The next evening I was in there again and one of them spent some time buzzing along the ceiling directly over my head.  At one point it dropped suddenly and brushed my wrist before hitting the floor and taking off again.  It was kind of intimidating.

I have mixed feelings about getting rid of them.  I know that bees are necessary in the life cycle of most plants and that bees in general are in decline.  I do, however, have to consider the safety of myself and my family, who do not share my ambivalence toward bees.  Getting stung while operating a power tool could have disastrous consequences.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

When to Push Your Limits

On March 22nd and 23rd I attended the 10th Annual Matisho Memorial Woodturning Cancer Benefit at Waldhiem.  This was my 4th trip there, and I enjoyed it as much as ever.  Because there are always a lot of very experienced turners there I see this event as a chance to bite off a little more than I normally chew.  There is a certain amount of comfort in knowing there is a lot of good help around if you get into trouble.

For my project this year I picked a piece of birch that I had picked up at a garage sale a few years ago.  It was about 4" thick and had been bandsawn into a blank about 10" in diameter.  I laid out a square on the top with a diagonal a little larger than the diameter of the circle.  This meant that the corners were rounded off, which would make them a little stronger.  I then sawed off the parts of the blank that fell outside the sides of the square.  I did all this before I went to Waldhiem and in my enthusiasm I forgot to take any pictures.

For the second year the event was being held at Menno Industries.  The people there were kind enough to donate their shop space and all-important lunch room to the cause.  Here is a shot of my set up.

This next shot may give you a better idea of what I was talking about up above.

Here you can see that the blank is a square with the corners chopped off.  The rough shaping of the bottom is done and I have left a tenon in the middle for the chuck to grab when I turn it around to work the top.

Now the top is shaped and sanded with 80 grit sandpaper, and the opening is defined.  In the picture below you get a good idea of the profile.

Time in the shop is usually time alone, but I think that people that come to this event enjoy the social aspect.  I know I do.  I think it is telling that, of the five turners in the picture, only two of them appear to be doing anything.

At this point I have hollowed it out enough to bring out the big gun, my Scorpion hollowing tool.  I was starting to lean a long way over the lathe , trying to look back along the tool to see what I was doing.  It got so bad that I went over to the other side of the lathe to see if it would be easier to turn from there.  It didn't work, but it did show me that the point of the cutter was getting to be a long way from the tool rest.  I switched to a scraper platform, stuck inside the mouth of the bowl, for additional support.

I continued working my way out to the edges and finally, toward the end of the day, I got to this point.

There are a couple of advantages to having holes in the side of a hollow bowl.  First, the bowl doesn't fill up with shavings anymore.  Second, you can stop leaning over the lathe and peering into the mouth of the bowl to see what you are doing.  You can stand up and see the point of the tool as it is cutting.

Thanks, Cal, For taking the picture.  I continued hollowing and this is where I wound up at the end of day one.

On day two I forgot to take my camera.  Don't worry, you didn't miss much.  I kept going until I was happy with the openings and the top and bottom were pretty close in thickness.  Then I sanded the corners of the openings until they all sort of matched.  This was necessary because I wasn't able to get the blank perfectly centred.  Like that ever happens.  Anyway, this is what it looked like when I got it home.

My next step was to get rid of the tenon on the bottom.  I used a chunk of scrap attached to a faceplate and turned a short stub that matched the diameter of the opening in the top.  Then I drilled out the centre and stuck a bolt through it from the back.

What's the bolt for you ask?  That's another advantage of  the open sides.  Once the bowl was on the stub I was able to put a thin piece of plywood over the bolt and snug it tight with a nut.  The wrench just fit inside the bowl.  This held the bowl in place so I could round off the bottom.

Once the bowl itself was done I started on the legs that support it.  While the bowl had stayed pretty much the same from the original concept to the finished product, the legs went through several changes in my head and on paper before I settled on the final shape.  Originally I was going to make them round in cross section, then changed that to curved sides with flats on the inside and the outside.  In both cases I was going to turn them on the lathe so they would be curved around the corners of the bowl.  There were a lot of technical challenges in doing it this way and, although I felt I had worked them all out in my head, I still wasn't 100% sold on either shape.  Eventually I settled on flat-sided legs to contrast with the curves of the bowl.  This meant that I could have different curvature on the inside and outside of the legs and when I drew it out that way I knew I had made the right choice.

I built a jig so that I could shape the inside and outside curves on my oscillating spindle sander.  Here I have done the inside curve.  To tie the legs visually to the bowl the radius of the curve is the  same as the outside of the bowl.

The radius of the outside curve is about half the length of the side of the bowl.

I feel that echoing the proportions of the bowl in the legs helps to give it an overall unity, even while the legs are in contrast to the bowl.  I know that it sounds pretty artsy-fartsy, but using that idea was a big help in figuring out how the legs would look, and in the end I think I got it right.

After sanding the curves I used a block plane to taper the legs from front to back.  This lightens the look of the legs, and makes the top and bottom of the leg look thicker than the middle.  It's cool the way the intersection of two simple forms, the curve and the flat surface, can produce such a complex looking shape.

With the bowl completed and the legs done all that was left was a way to hook them together.  I had decided early on that I was going to do this with dowels.  Drilling the holes straight required another jig to hold the bowl perpendicular as the holes were drilled.

My failure to get the blank perfectly centred reared its ugly head again at this point.  Getting one corner centerd  under the drill bit did not mean that any of the other corners would be centred side to side.  That is the reason for the two blocks clamped to the table in front of the jig.  They act as a reference to keep the drill bit lined up front to back as I slide it side to side.  I didn't have to move it very much.  You can't tell that the holes are not perfectly diagonal to each other, but you certainly would have noticed if they weren't centred on the corner.

I gave the bowl a couple of coats of Danish oil to darken the wood and give it a golden color.  The birch was too light to match the picture I had in my head.  The legs I painted with black semi-gloss acrylic.

The bowl went back out to the shop and was buffed with Hutt Perfect Pen Polish to give it a nice sheen.

The last design decision I made was the offset of the legs.  My original intent was to have them right up tight to the corners of the bowl but while I was sketching out the legs the idea of having them offset popped up.  When it came time to attach the legs I decided I liked it.  I feel it increases the sense of suspension.

This bowl was a challenge, both physically and mentally.  There were all kinds of places where it could have gone wrong, but in the end it turned out to be one of the most satisfying projects I have ever done.  It matches the vision I had in my head, and that's not easy to do.

Evil Alien Face

Feed Me!

I have decided to name this one 'Calling Occupants' after that old Klaatu song.  It has sort of a space ship-y kind of feel to it, and the open sides seem to invite you to fill it.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Lee Valley Wooden Plane Kit - Sort of a Review

Just before Christmas Lee Valley came out with this hardware kit for a wooden plane.  As soon as I saw the adjuster I knew I had to build it.  I waited 'til Christmas for my usual Lee Valley gift cards and took them over to the store to pick up the kit.

Unfortunately I went on a pen turning binge before I got to building the plane and then the cold set in again and kept me out of the shop for a while. In the mean time though, I made a close examination of the one part that really intrigued me, the adjuster.

If you look closely at the picture you will see that the larger thread is right handed and the smaller thread is left handed.  What this means is that when you turn the knob one full turn the traveler, which moves the blade, will move the sum of the two thread pitches.  I measured the travel for 1 turn and found it to be 1/8th of an inch.  I was bored (too cold to go in the shop) so I did the math (way too cold) and calculated that in order to change the depth of cut 1/1000th of an inch, which is that magic standard for shaving thickness, you turn the knob 4.09 degrees.  The knob is 3/4" in diameter, so to turn it 4.09 degrees the lateral movement is .027", or less than 1/32nd.  That is pretty fine motor skills for a klutz like me.

The threads on the adjuster of my block plane look similar at first glance, but upon closer examination you see that both threads are right handed.  This way the traveler movement is the difference between the two thread pitches, or in this case, 1/32nd for a full turn of the knob.  The block plane also benefits from a 12 degree bed angle compared to the 45 degree angle of the wooden plane.  The result is that you have to turn the knob 55 degrees to change the depth of cut by .001".  The knob is also larger (1" diameter) which translates to almost 1/2 inch of lateral motion.  Much easier for clumsy fingers.

Finally the weather improved enough for me to get out to the shop without risk of severe frostbite.  The wood I chose was a block of cocobolo that I had received for Christmas a couple of years earlier.  You have to be careful when working with cocobolo because it can cause strong allergic reactions and can create sensitivity to other woods as well.

This is me in my cocobolo protection gear.  Actually this is the way I look all the time I'm in the shop in the winter.  Even with the heater going, I don't think it ever gets to be much above freezing in there.  The cocobolo is dark enough that pencil marks and knife lines don't show up very well, so I stole my son's white pencil crayon to help.  I sharpened it to a chisel tip and went over the knife lines to increase visibility.

The instructions were pretty straightforward, although sparse (If you want to read them you can get to them through the link above).  It really is a pretty simple build, overall.  It's just the tricky little details that that aren't in the instructions, like flattening the blade bed and setting the throat opening.  These are the things that can be the difference between a plane that works and a plane you want to work with.  Fortunately I had read Making and Mastering Wood Planes, by David Finck, which helped me to fill in the blanks.

I'm not going to rehash the entire build, as I mostly just followed the instructions, but I do have a few tips for you if you are thinking about getting this kit to build a plane.  My first piece of advice is that if this would be your first plane, get the book I mentioned above.  I think that would be a big help in understanding what is important and how to make sure you get it right.  I don't fault Lee Valley for not making the instructions more detailed, because in order to do that they would pretty much have to include a copy of this book with every kit.

My second tip is that you might want to put the adjuster a little higher up the blade bed than the instructions tell you to.  I say this to prevent the near disaster that happened to me.  After the plane body was assembled and the glue had cured I made a couple of light passes over the jointer to make sure the bottom was flat.  I then put some 220 sandpaper on the jointer bed and sanded the jointer marks off the bottom of the plane.  Once I had the throat opened up enough for the blade to pass through I put the adjuster in.  With the blade retracted as far as possible this is what I got.

In case you can't tell the blade is sticking through the bottom about 1/16th".  That's a pretty big error.  Fortunately the cup that holds the adjuster fits into a round hole in the plane body.  My solution was to turn a plug from the waste from the centre section of the plane to fill the hole and then drill a new hole about an eighth of an inch up.

My next tip is to be very careful about where you drill the hole for the cross pin.  I thought I was, but when I tried to install the lever cap it wouldn't fit.  It was a simple matter to plane down the lever cap so it fit, but I just found it odd.  Probably my fault.

Lastly, the lever cap they show in the instructions is butt ugly.  Do something about that.  My solution was to trace the shape of the blade on the lever cap and shape it to match.  I don't know if it is the best solution but it is a huge improvement.

The lever cap turned out to be my favorite part of the build.  It is a lot simpler than trying to fit a wedge.  I'll need to spend some more time with this plane to see if it holds as well.  I barely got this plane done in time to get it to the Sienna Gallery for the show. I did take a few shavings from a piece of curly maple.  It planed without any tear-out, but I couldn't get those fine, fluffy shavings I had hoped for.  For now, I'm blaming it on the adjuster.  When I get the plane back I'll try it with and without the adjuster to see which way works better.

All in all, this was a fun project, and a fairly easy build if you don't goof it up like I did.  I thought the adjuster would be my favorite part, but it turned out to be the lever cap.  If it can hold as well as the wedge I may have to use the idea again.  For my next plane I hope to get away from the Krenov style and make something with a tote.