Monday, 10 October 2016

My Wife Was Going To Throw This Out

This post is out of order, there are two other projects that should be ahead of it, but this is a quick one and I'm super happy with the results so I'm pushing it ahead.

A friend had mentioned turning denim soaked in resin so one day when I was at my wife's store I asked her if she had any fabric scraps she wanted to get rid of.  She pointed to a bag beside the garbage can and said "knock yourself out."  I picked through the bag and grabbed all the shades of blue that I could find, along with some neon green for accent.

I mixed up some Alumilite Clear Cast and started dipping fabric.  Did I mention it's a good idea to cut the fabric into strips first?  Do that first.  A little too narrow is better than too wide, and too short is better than too long.  You need to be wearing disposable latex gloves for this, because you are getting your fingers right into the resin and saturating the fabric.  Unless you want your camera buttons to have a permanent candy coating, you don't take pictures either.

Once I was done and had peeled the gloves off this is what I had.

24 hours later it came out of the mold looking like this.  Not terribly promising, but...

Once it was turned it came out like this.  There are a few small bubbles but overall I was really happy with it.

It turned more like wood than plastic.  The shavings were more likely to break up rather than form strings like pure plastic usually does.  If you look closely you can even see the weave of the fabric.

It takes a while to do this, about an hour or more to prepare the blank, but the results are worth it.  I have already molded another one.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

This Is Called An Incomplete Success

This piece was inspired by the work of Raney Nelson of Daed Toolworks.  The methods used are derived from his description which was posted on his blog.  Anything that is wrong is probably due to my interpretation.

I don't mean to run out of time.  It just seems that I can never allow for how slowly I work.

This project started because of the Guild's annual 2 x 4 challenge, to make something, anything, from a standard 8' piece of 2 x 4 lumber. (See my previous attempts here and here).  This year the projects were to be presented at the April meeting instead of the the one in march.  With an extra month, I was sure to have lots of time.

One of the things I like about this challenge is that you are forced to work with limited resources. Everything must fit within the dimensions of this one board, and it forces you to plan your use of materials carefully.  I usually find myself using offcuts that would normally be thrown away in order to get enough of a particular piece.

I started out by cutting the legs from the 2 x 4.  The legs are triangular in section and I tried first to make them on the table saw.  I angled the blade to 30 degrees and made the first cut just fine.  Then I flipped the board over and moved the fence over so I would cut out a 60 degree angle to make a leg. By the time I was about 12 inches into the cut however, the saw was starting to fight back.  It was binding, wandering, and just refusing to cut.  I decided it was about time I cleaned the blade.  This helped tremendously for about 6 more inches, then it was back to the fight.  I gave up quickly this time and did the rest of the angle cuts on the band saw.  I don't know why, but my cheap table saw just doesn't like angles.

After the frame components had been roughed out the next step was to make the strips for the lattice. The exact height and width of the strips isn't really important, as long as they are consistent.  You also need to be able to easily divide the height of the strips by three.  I used three pieces of 1/4" hardboard as the height of my strips.  Having physical 1/3 pieces is important, as you will see later.

My next task was to cut my strips on the band saw and then plane them to the finished width.  The easiest way to get them all to come out the same thickness was to use a jig.

3/4" plywood base, 3/16"plywood strips on that, just far enough apart for the plane blade to get between them.  In between is a cardboard shim topped with 80 grit PSA backed sandpaper to keep the strips from moving around.  two more wooden strips on top to guide the plane and keep the blade between the plywood strips.

A screw at the end acts as an adjustable planing stop.  Was I worried that the blade would hit the screw? Yes.  At first. It took me about half a dozen strips to settle down and plane with confidence.

The plane that I used was the one I made using the Lee Valley kit, with the adjuster removed.  I have to brag a bit because the plane worked perfectly.  It's hard to check for the grain direction on thin strips of spruce and I quickly gave up trying, but it didn't matter, the plane took great shavings either way.  There were about 30 of these strips to thickness, and this was the most use I have made of this plane since I built it.  In the process, I learned a couple of things.  The first was to be careful with my knuckles when I use this plane.  Those red spots by the adjuster are blood that leaked out when I caught them on the edge of the guide strip.  The second, more important, lesson was how a small,  unhandled smoother should be held.  I have grown up in a world where handplanes were defined by Stanley planes, with rear handles and front knobs.  I never really 'got' the unhandled infill planes from an ergonomic point of view.  Now that I understand the way they are meant to be held they make a lot more sense.
Before & after thickness.
With the strips all planed I needed a way to cut them at a consistent 60 degree angle.  Custom built miter box to the rescue.

The overall length is 36", so the 20" long strips would not overhang so much that they would tend to fall off.  Why are the sides only 30"?  Because the piece of baltic birch plywood I cut them from was only 30" long.  Why is the miter slot off center?  Because I needed the extra room at one end for an alignment block which you will see later.  Why is there only one angle instead of opposing angles? Because I took this picture before I cut the second angle, and it's a good thing I did, because it took me a couple of tries to get it right and you can't see the mess I made.

Here you can see why you need to have to have something that is 1/3 of the total thickness, or in this case 2/3.  I am using the hardboard to set the depth of cut for the saw so it will stop when I have cut 1/3 of the way through.  The spring clamps are not the most secure clamps in the world but they are light and it doesn't require a lot of pressure to cut through the spruce.  There is a lot of sawing ahead and it is best not to have too much weight on the saw.

Before I can start making cuts I need to know where to cut.  I made a little marking gauge to guide the knife for the left cut.

An offcut of one of the strips is used to mark the right side of the cut.  When the cuts are made the left mark has to line up with the left side of the saw kerf.  The right mark aligns with the right side of the kerf.  That way the opening is just wide enough for another strip to fit in.

It may seem a little strange but after all this work I still didn't know for sure that this was going to work, so I decided to do a test joint before diving right in.  The first cut was set to cut 1/3 of the way through, the flipped to make a cut 1/3 through from the opposite side.  Because of the flip, the two cuts wind up at opposing angles.  Reset to cut the right side, and remove the waste with a chisel.

This is the result.  The next cut is a little trickier.  You cut 2/3 deep in one direction (120 degrees) and then 1/3 deep in the other direction (60 degrees).

When you combine these two it starts to make sense.

The last piece is cut to 2/3 depth in both directions so that when you turn it over it slides neatly into the joint.

First try.
Giddy with success I dove in to the full project.  I laid out marks on 2" centers and knifed them on the edge of a strip, along with the marks for the right hand cut.  Then I lined it up in the miter box as before, but this time I added a stop block, also cut at 60 degrees, and wedged it into place.

Now that my distance was set I could add the rest of the strips that needed the same cut and wedge them into place.

This way I could cut all 9 strips at once.  It saves a lot of time, rather than having to mark and cut each strip individually.

After that it was a lot of remove the wedges, reset, repeat.  The actual saw cuts take only a few seconds, but setting up each cut was tedious.  You can see from the picture, too, that small errors start to pop up.  I told myself that these would just help to lock everything together at assembly time and pressed on.  Once all the cuts were made I removed the waste with a narrow chisel.

The rest of the strips required cuts in both directions so I modified my marking gauge by cutting the opposing angle on the other end.  I also notched the offcut strip to fit around the strip I was marking to make it a little easier.

When all the cuts were made I took a deep breath and started to put them all together.  All in all, it turned out pretty good.

For those of you who are into numbers, there are 81 three way lap joints, each requiring 12 saw cuts, for a total of 972 cuts.  Admittedly I cheated by doing 9 at a time, so it's really only 108, but still...

My plan was to build a triangular stand with the top and a shelf both made from the lattice.  The top lattice would be a little larger than the shelf.  

I wanted to complete the top lattice by including the asa-no-ha (hemp leaf) patterns.  When they are arranged in circles they resemble flowers.  This required building one more jig to taper them to the proper angle.

The angle is cut at 30 degrees.  Taper one side of the strip, flip it, and taper the other side.  This results in a 60 degree point that fits neatly into the corners of the triangles.  I measured the length of the leg of the triangles, did some math, and came up with a length of about one inch for each leg of the hemp leaves.  Tow of the legs are formed by a two inch long strip that is cut nearly in half.

I actually went a bit too far with this cut, but it held.  The third leg of the leaf is about one inch long and tapered to a point at one end but only tapered down to the width of the saw kerf at the other end.

When you put the two together it should all fit nicely.

In reality there is a bit of trial and error in getting the lengths just right.  As usual I was starting to run out of time and I had to just get things done.  It still looks good from a distance, but up close it's a little sloppy.

I'm not going to bore you with details of building the stand because this post is long enough already and, really, it turned into kind of a disaster.  I was out of time and it was just an ugly design anyway.
In the end all but the top went into the scrap pile.  At least that part was nice enough that my wife wanted to keep it around.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Gramercy Tools Bow Saw Kit: Sort of a Review

A couple of years ago I used the Lee Valley gift cards I got for Christmas to purchase a Gramercy Tools Bow Saw Kit.  I wanted it partly because of the limitations of my band saw (3" max. cutting height) and partly because I am a sucker for anything that I can use to build a tool at home (See plane, spokeshave).

The kit hardware consists of two handles, brass pins that go into the handles, and three blades.  There are measured and full scale drawings along with some construction notes that offer helpful advice but no step by step instructions.  The lack of instructions may take this out of the 'beginner' class, but it is still a pretty straightforward project.  I didn't see any drawback to not having detailed instructions.

Even so, I did go online and check out other bow saw builds and it did yield some useful information. The most significant item was actually a note that I had planned to ignore.  In the drawings the spot where the crossbar and the arms meet is curved.  In the notes it says "Since our saws are made on automated production machinery it's pretty easy for us to do.  If you are working by hand, squared up mortises, tenons, and faces are the way to go."  I, of course, took this as a challenge.  I could curve my shoulders as well (almost) as any machine.  What I saw online changed my mind.  A couple of people had tried it and got the curve wrong.  It didn't wreck the saw but it just looked wrong.  I decided to leave mine flat.

The handles that came with the kit were hickory but I didn't have any of that so I went with beech instead.  In order to make the cross bar as strong as possible I wanted it to be quartersawn. Fortunately my flatsawn beech was thick enough that I could get the crossbar out of it.  I marked the quartersawn grain on the board and cut along one line to avoid runout as much as possible.

Did I mention that I ran the bottom side of the board over my jointer first?  I did that so I would have a reference surface.  After that, I could do the rest of the squaring up with a hand plane.  Eventually I wound up with a very nice stick.  This may not seem like a big deal to you but I am still kind of new at using hand tools and making something flat and square is a big deal to me.

I followed the same procedures and made two more sticks for the arms, except I had to leave them flatsawn because of their width.  Then I glued photocopies of the full scale drawings on to them as a guide for cutting the rough shape.  Before actually cutting them out though I drilled the holes for the pins and made the mortises for the tenons on the cross bar.

  It was a lot easier to do this while everything was still square.  This was another thing I learned from the internet.  I like to think that I would have thought of this on my own, but...

The next step was to cut the tenons on the crossbar and check it for length.  I did this by putting the pins in the arms and installing a blade, then putting the crossbar in place and squaring one side.

If the length was right then the other side would be square as well.

Of course it wasn't.  If you've read my blog before you would expect that.  At least it was still too long.  A couple more tries and it came out right.

Once the crossbar was right I cut the arms out with my wife's scroll saw.  If I had already had a bow saw I would have used that, but then there would be no need to build a bow saw.

If you are good with a scroll saw you can get a pretty good finish from it but I need a lot more practice before I can do that consistently.  Fortunately I cut a little off the line which left me some room to smooth things out.

The next step was to taper the upper part of the arms.  I had expected difficulty in getting a nice, consistent taper but I used my block plane an was surprised how easy it was.  I just started near the top end and worked my way back, and was able to adjust the angle easily by changing where I started my stroke.

When it was time to move to the other side I put a wedge under the back end so that the first side had  support for the whole length.  After that it was just a matter of chamfering the edges and shaping the bottom end to finish the arm.

There is something about the process of shaping wood that I find to be deeply satisfying,  I can't really explain it, but using rasps and files to soften a corner or create a cove simply feeds my soul in some way.

The chamfers on the crossbar were not quite as straightforward because they were wider in the middle and tapered away as they approached the ends.  I made a template for the curve by marking a straight line on a piece of cardboard and then putting nails in separated by the length of the chamfer.  I then bent a strip of wood so that the bend matched the bend of the chamferand marked the curve.

I then cut along the curve and bent the cardboard along the line and marked the chamfers.

Then it was just a matter of chamfering to meet the lines.

The last part to make was the toggle for tightening the string.  The instructions were to turn a toggle and taper opposite sides, but I just made mine from a square piece of beech.

At this point all that was left was to assemble the saw and tension it.  Wait, where's the string?  If you remember the start of this post, there was no mention of any string in the kit contents.  Actually, part of the reason it took me two years to start building this kit was that there was no string with it.  For what I paid for this kit I really think I should have gotten some string.  You can buy the string separately on their website, but it still doesn't come with the kit.  As a woodworker, I think I would have rather had string than the handles.  I can make wooden handles.  By the time I was done building this saw I was pretty worked up up about the whole matter.   I was ready to trash Gramercy and the saw and everyone associated with it.

So what stopped me?  Well I went out and bought some string and actually tried the saw.  It was, to put it simply, a delight.  The saw is surprisingly light and nimble.  It cuts great.  It feels good in the hand.  All my angst about the string melted away as I made the first cut through some 2" thick beech.

It also gave me a chance to try out the new branding iron that I got for Christmas.

So, overall, I'm pretty happy with the saw.  I still think it should come with string, though.