Tuesday, September 28, 2010

On a smaller scale...

So, I think that one of the worst lagging parts of the 80s for me is the notion that ideas have to be original. It's gotten into my head enough that there are times when I almost discount an idea, just because I've seen or heard of it before.

Today was a good example of that. I got into the shop and I was sketching the slabs and brainstorming, and trying to think of just what kind of base to use, etc. And then it occurred to me that I might make a scale model.

I almost didn't. I've seen other furniture builders make them, and it seems cute, but somehow not quite my thing. But as I was sketching, I realized very quickly that a 2 dimensional sketch just isn't the same thing, and it won't give me a feel for how the proportions are going to play out when I build the thing. I love the table I made for our living room, for example, but I think if I had to do it over again, I might move the legs inwards, just by an inch or two.

Anyway, I took some rough measurements of the table, and I got out the drawing for the slab table form last July to get an idea of what kind of dimensions I was dealing with. Then I divided everything by eight, ran the math, and went to make miniature parts.

The results are pretty cool. It's a neat design. But I also noticed a few other things. I like the idea of using these proportions, but for a larger project, like a trestle table for the dining room. I like using the trestles with the stretcher on top. But I also like it with the stretcher on the bottom. And while the idea was to make a slab table for a live edge piece of wood, the proportions look good with a squared off plank, too.

Since the point, for me, was to play with proportions, and not to execute the joinery in miniature, I made the base so that the trestles could slide along the stretcher. It was a huge help, and I noticed pretty quickly that too close to the ends and too close to each other are pretty easily spotted. The perfect spacing is going to be less obvious, but I can take pictures and compare.

I had other ideas once the proportions were out of my head. I worked out the joinery a year and a half ago, but I had a few new ideas for usage this afternoon, to make a larger table, with 4 legs, instead of 2 trestles, but that's another plan for another project, and I still have to get through these ones.

When the new ideas come out, I know I'm in a good place.

More soon.

Monday, September 27, 2010

New Slab Tables

I've had these two slabs for around 4 years now. They're both curly maple, I'm pretty sure they're from the same tree, and I'm pretty sure that the tree had an ant problem, which would be the reason for the holes, and the coloring of the wood.

When I bought them, I really had no idea what I should do with them to really make the most of them. I'm still not sure. But I do know that there's always more wood, and gorgeous wood that I can't figure out how to use is less useful to me than gorgeous wood that I can build with. And leaving them up on the rack just isn't really appropriate for my operation right now. These tables are speculative pieces, and they will be available for sale.

I'm still trying to figure out what each table is going to look like. I imagine it will be related to this table that I built a year and a half ago. But I still need to figure out how I'm going to trim the ends, etc. And the slab with the more severe taper will be a little more challenging when it comes to design.

I pulled these off the rack a month or two ago, and eventually put them back when I started messing with benches. Tonight I took them back out, and took time to start picking out the dirt and grass and debris from the ants' nest in the larger slab, and to pry out the bark inclusions. I was surprised at how much of a difference it made to have the bark removed: suddenly, there was more surface variation than just the ants' nest in the end.

Surprisingly, most of the holes do not go clear through the board. But at least one does. : )

I also took the time to dig away at a punky section on the larger board, first with a small chisel, then with a bigger chisel, and finally with a small hatchet.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Buffing wheel part II

So, I spent a bit of time today, fussing with the grinder.

My main issue was that I didn't like working from the back of the grinder, because the light, which is hard-mounted to the grinder pedestal, was in the way. That, and I don't like reaching around and fumbling for a switch to turn off a still-moving tool. It violates a basic premise of power tool safety: Keep your eyes on the moving parts at all times. I can't do that effectively if I have to reach over and in front of the wheels.

I pulled the grinder apart, and opened up the bottom to pull and tug at the wiring. I was shooting text messages back and forth with an electrical engineer friend of mine. But even with trying to re-wire the thing, it still ran the same direction. Eventually I concluded that not only was it a royal pain in the neck to try to figure out, but even if I did get it right, it would spin the nuts off of the drive shaft while running, which is not exactly optimal.

I did figure out that I could detach the pedestal and turn it around, though. So now I'm working at the back of the motor, and the front of the pedestal... so the wheels are turning in the proper direction for buffing, I can see and reach the switch, and the lamp isn't in the way.

The other thing I had planned was to use the veritas tool rest in conjunction with the felt wheel. One of the issues that keeps coming up is that buffing wheels are notorious for rounding over tool edges. The felt wheel is harder, which is, I'm told, less likely to round over the tool edges, and the tool rest will hopefully help me to present the tool to the wheel at a better angle for buffing. I tried this on a chisel this afternoon... so far, so good.

Next step is to get a finer grit sanding belt for the belt grinder, so that I can (hopefully) bring tools directly from the grinder to the buffing wheel and get right back to work.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Buffing wheel part I

So, following a discussion a couple of months ago about sharpening with a buffing wheel, I finally went out and bought one for my 6" grinder, and a felt wheel as well.

The general idea is that the buffing wheel will make short work of putting a final polish on a tool, or touching up a tool, which is only similar to stropping in spirit, I think... I'll explore the real details in a follow-up post.

I got the wheels partially set up yesterday, and played with them a bit. I need to rework the guards on the grinder, which I'll do later this week, but initial testing of the buffing wheel thing as a way to keep my tools sharp left me feeling wowed. Among other things, I buffed my pocket knife, which I typically keep un-necessarily sharp. My shiny sharp edge turned into a BRIGHT shine, even sharper edge, in almost no time.

Better results in much less time is something I'm very excited about.

More soon.

Monday, September 20, 2010


Edit: 12/19/2011: I have written up a more concise and better illustrated narrative on how to install the Emmert Pattern Maker's vise here

So, the Emmert is in, it's nice. I haven't used it for much, because I still need to do some carving to help with clearance of the jaws when it's rotating. In short, it rotates just fine when it isn't tilted. Tilting and then rotating, not so good.

I'm debating the virtues of just making a larger, square notch in that corner of the bench top. I feel it will be easier, and look nicer. We'll see...

In other news, I'm working on a refinishing project. nothing fancy, but it'll help pay the bills.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Emmert Vise

Edit: 12/19/2011: I have written up a more concise and better illustrated narrative on how to install the Emmert Pattern Maker's vise here

So, now that the top is flat, and the drawers are all re-built, one more major task remained... mounting this vise that I've been sitting on for so long. I got going on this last part of the bench project a few days ago. Once in a while, something clicks, and it all just works out.

There was a lot involved in putting this thing in, because I took the more difficult road. Most of the time, I see these vises mounted in the most simple way possible... which is still pretty involved... but the owners simple mount them to the front edge of the bench without trying to get the rear jaw flush with the face of the bench. I can totally understand why people do it this way: the vise needs a lot of clearance to be able to rotate and tilt and do all of the other things that it does. I'm still knocking down high spots that interfere with rotation at various angles.

Knowing what I know now, if I were to build a new bench that were going to have a pattern maker's vise on it, I think I'd use a hybrid method... glue up most of the bench top, mount the vise to the front edge, and make the last strip of the top thick enough to come up to be in line with the rear jaw once the vise were properly installed. I think it's important to be able to clamp things in the vise and against the front edge of the bench at the same time, which is why I bothered to go through the effort of mounting the vise the way that I did.

There are a few more small things to do to the bench. I'd like it to be an inch or two shorter than it is. And I have a few alignments that I need the make on the vise... the rear jaw is sitting a little bit high. But the grunt work of this detour from daily productivity is pretty much done.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

One Good Whuppin

I have a long list of complaints about my Sjoberg Elite 2500. But after a lot of avoidant behavior on my part, I decided that the money I spent on the thing was a good reason to get it back in workable shape. 

First step was to rebuild the drawers.

The top tier of drawers was too tall in the sides... they rubbed on the top of the carcase, and the extra friction made it hard to open them, and I'm sure contributed to the fronts pulling loose. No good. So I disassembled them, trimmed the sides and back, chamfered the top edges, and added glue to the butt joints when I screwed them back together.

I also added chamfers to the top edges of the second tier down. I didn't need to modify the drawers. But I stuck with the glued-up butt joint idea. Same thing for the bottom drawers. Gotta love pre-fab... the fronts are tall, but they use the same (shorter) sides and back as the upper drawers. I did notice that they chose the wood thoughtfully... the back is made of maple, and the sides are something a little softer and more porous. The sides are screwed to the ends of the back, and the maple holds the threads well, while the softer wood crushes a bit, allowing the screw heads to sink in, and lessening the likelihood of stripping the holes in the maple. While it was nice to see that evidence of thoughtfulness, it's still a pre-fab, screwed together drawer, and isn't really worth getting worked up over.

After all that, I took some time to think about how to mount the Emmert vise. Calm down... it's not happening for a little while yet.

Ultimately, I decided that there was no point in mounting the thing if the top wasn't flat, for various reasons. So, I spent a good chunk of time planing the hump out of the middle of the bench top. The center was something close to 1/8" higher than the ends. Across an 8' top, that's a lot of wood that has to come off. It was a busy day, with a lot of sweating involved.

 Eventually, it was flattened out. While cleaning out the drawers, I came across a bottle of oil for finishing the top, that had come packaged with the bench when I bought it 3 years ago. So, I put on a good coat of finish, and called it a day. My apologies for the garish yellow... I swear it doesn't look like it was finished with a highlighter. Notice the blast radius of the shavings on the floor... I took a lot of wood off of the top.