Tools

Where Did I Put That Stinking Knife Handle?

Recently I was sitting down ready to incise the pattern into the block that would become the pattern for the mold for making my soon-to-be-available Blend 31 block wax.  It was at that moment that I realized I had put the handles for my detail knives someplace for some reason I could not remember.  It was not that I had misplaced one of my handles, I could not find any of them, suggesting I had collected them for some purpose that I could no recall.  Fortunately they will be found as soon as my task is completed.

In the mean time, I needed a handle for the knife blades I needed to use.  So I made one.

Taking a piece of dowel stock from inventory I sawed a small slot with a fine Japanese back saw, inserted the blade into that and bound it with twisted copper wire, much in the same manner as quill brushes.  It worked just fine for the carving of the mat board that was the detailed surface of the block pattern.

An hour later I had the design incised into the surface and the block was ready for making the rubber mold.

 

And sure enough, the box with my micro tools was found right after this was finished.  Sigh.

Up A Creek Without A Polissoir

At the recent gathering of the Professional Refinisher’s Group one of the presenters was addressing a topic that would have fit seamlessly with the use of polissoirs.  When I asked the host for his, I was informed it could not be found.  I canvassed the group and none was to be found.  Even I had not brought one with me!  While I normally travel with my rolling Store for some reason this time I did not.

But with a little thrashing around and some yeoman’s help from TomD we made one that worked enough or the task.

The starting point was the old shop broom, a roll of twine, and my dull Victorinox multi-tool knife (dull because I had cut some wire and had not sharpened it.  My bad.)

After cutting of some broom fibers we set about trying to find the string necessary.  We could not find anything really robust, what we found was some soft twine similar to macrame yarn.  So we used what we could find.  (I think the broom went back to hang on its nail, ready to go to work albeit a little less effectively).

Working carefully, and celebrating the fact that my broken arm from two years ago has recovered almost all of its dexterity and strength, I started putting it together.  My biggest challenge was trying to work right up to the limit of the tensile strength of our soft twine.  Normally I use heavyweight waxed linen cord, which I literally cannot break by hand, resulting in a polissoir so tight it has a sharp sound when rapped against a hard surface.  This undertaking did not yield such a result, but the polissoir was tight enough to serve well enough for the task at hand.

I trimmed one end  and we put it to work.

I’ll know to never travel anywhere without a polissoir in the future.  Note to self: when packing for a trip, it’s glaucoma meds, toothbrush, and a polissoir.

Test Driving A Prototype

For the past several months I have been cheering on Steve Voigt in his quest to make brand new toothing planes in the style of his vintage-design plane line-up.  A while ago he was speaking at the Washington Woodworker’s Guild and I brought a half dozen of my vintage toothers for him to examine and measure.

A couple weeks ago his first prototype arrive at the barn for me to test drive.

It is a lovely artifact as you would fully expect from Steve (or any of the other of our contemporary planemakers — none of them are making anything less than superb tools) and I delighted in getting it set up.  It was a feast for the senses, beautiful visually in its proportions and craftsmanship, fitting my hands like and old, well-worn glove.

I know Steve is working on a plan to make his own irons but this one was a vintage one in remarkable condition.

Steve is definitely on the right track.  I made a lot of the teeny toother shavings and found that it leaves the surface well-prepared for whatever you want to come next.  I made notes on my observations and sent them back to Steve, and will return the tool itself for a couple of very minor modifications to transform it from merely excellent to exquisite.  I cannot wait to get it back as a purchase, it will likely become my most heavily used preparation plane.

All A-buzz

Many times in the studio I need to shake something, just a teeny bit.

For example, when casting plaster or plaster like materials, such as ceramic media for lost-wax casting investment, it is sometimes necessary to tap on the mold container to dislodge air bubbles that all too often get lodged against the surface.  If they remain there the casting will be diminished, even ruined.  Many years ago I looked into getting a vibration table for buzzing the molds while the medium was still liquid, loosening the bubbles to rise to the surface.  After pricing the available devices I decided to go another route.

What could I use to cut the cost of a vibrating table down to near-zero?

Hearkening back 55 years to my times with Stan the Barber I recalled two things — Stan always had the latest comic books for the boys to read, a real treat for me because we were too poor to get them, and the tickle of the vibrating electric clippers on my neck when he was trimming up.  Could electric hair clippers be part of the answer?

The next time I ran across some clippers at the thrift store I decided to roll the dice with a buck-and-a-half for the clipper.  I combined the tool with some scraps of wood, two pieces of plumbing strap and a few screws.

Viola’.  A vibrating table for a couple bucks and a couple minutes.

Summer 2019 Workshops at the Barn

I have settled on the topics and approximate schedule for next summer’s classes here in the hinterlands, with three of the four classes emphasizing toolmaking.  I will post about them in greater detail in the near future.  One minor change I’ll be instituting next year is that three-day workshops will now be Thursday-Friday-Saturday rather than Friday-Saturday-Sunday as before.

June’s class will be a metalworking event, Making A Nested Set of Roubo’s Squares.   The objective will be for each attendee to create a set of four or five solid brass footed squares, the sort illustrated in Roubo’s Plate 308, Figure 2.  The special emphasis will be on silver soldering, a transforming skill for the toolmaker’s shop.  The tentative dates for this are June 6-8 or 20-22, $375 + $25 for materials.

July’s class will be my annual offering of Historic Wood Finishing.  Each participant will complete a series of exercises I have devised for the most efficient learning experience to overcome finishing fears and difficulties.  Of particular importance are the aspects of surface preparation and the use and application of wax and spirit varnish finishes using the techniques of the 1700s.  Probably July 11-13, $375.

In August we will continue the pursuit of Roubo’s tool kit, this time Making and Using Roubo’s Shoulder Knife.  I have no way to know exactly how prevalent was this tool’s use in ancient days, but I suspect more than I can imagine.  Each participant will fabricate a shoulder knife to fit their own torso, so its use can be both the most comfortable and the most effective.  Probably August 15-17, $375.

The final class for the year will be a week-long Build A Ripple Molding Cutter.  As I have been pursuing this topic and blogging about it, fellow ripple-ista John Hurn and I have settled on a compact design we think can be built by every attendee in a five-day session.  Together we will be teaching the process of ripple moldings and fabricating the machines that make them.  September 23-27, $750 plus $200 materials fee.

Save the dates and drop me a line for more information.

Making a 1″ NPT Tap For A One-off Use

I am in the process of reconfiguring the plumbing at the bottom of the hydroelectric system (more about why later) involving increasing the size of the final flow route from 3/4″ to 1″, a dimensional increase of 33% and, more beneficially, a volumetric increase of almost 80%.  But in order to accomplish this I needed to fabricate some fittings with 1″ NPT female threads, requiring a 1″ NPT tap.  Ever priced one of those?  The number is exceedingly off-putting so instead I made my own using a $3 piece of  1″ NPT pipe fitting from the hardware store.  Since I was cutting threads in Schedule 40 PVC it was more than robust enough for the task.

I first tapered the end of the pipe with a file, then sawed four kerfs into the surface of the threads with a hacksaw.

With files I then reduced the cross-section of the threads such that each of the four kerfs became four cutting faces for the new threads which were being cut into a slightly oversized 1-1/8″ hole drilled in the PVC.

The “tap” handle was just an assemblage of plumbing pieces, and the thread cutting could commence.

This allowed me to screw in the fitting I needed for the radiator hoses that connect the penstock to the turbine valves/nozzles/impeller.

It took about an hour to make the tap, and it saved many, many dollar$.

Finally A Set of Mortise Chisels I Like — All I Had To Do Was Make Them

I have always found making mortise-and-tenon constructs to be more irksome than dovetails.  After decades of struggling and countless m&ts I came to realize that much of my animus was due to mortising chisels themselves — they simply were not amenable to the work I was undertaking most of the time.  Traditional “pigsticker” mortising chisels seemed akin to sticking a piece of steel into a rolling pin and using that to make a rectangular hole.  That approach works for some things, things I do only rarely, but in the diminutive work such as fitting the steam bent slats of Gragg chairs into their crest rails working with oversized pigstickers was not conducive, for me, to good controllable work.  Truthfully I got so frustrated that earlier this year I gave my complete set of vintage pigstickers to Steve Voigt.

Instead I made myself a new set of mortising chisels more in keeping with the work that I do.  And it all started with a derelict bunch of plow plane irons I’ve been assembling in recent years.  Such irons are usually available for little money, especially if the ends are completely boogered up.  Taking the pile that I had, I marked them all at the same length and noted their width.  It was pretty clear I could have a wonderful set of precisely graduated sizes perfectly suited for the work I do, at least 99% of it.  For the other 1% I have a couple more “standard” sized chisels, but who knows now if I will ever use them for anything but large scale timber framing.

After marking them all to the same length with tape I cut them with an abrasive disk in my micro-rotary (yes, that is my new Emmert Universal Vise; it is real and it is spectacular).  It took three disks and fifteen minutes before I had the raw stock to make the set of chisels.

Up next — wood handles from the scrap box.  Tulipwood?  Bocote?  Brazilian Rosewood?

A Valuable New Layout Tool For About One Cent

When assembling Gragg chairs I sometimes need to transfer lines from the pattern/assembly jig to the chair pieces.  Try as I might all my other squares and such would not work in the restricted spaces of the assembly jig, so I took a piece of scrap 2-inch aluminum angle stock and in about three minutes had a new tool that will become increasingly prominent in the tool kit.

I cut about an inch off the end of the scrap piece after squaring it on the table saw, then cleaned up the edges and put it to work.

You can see a trace of a previous faulty attempt to lay out the line I needed to mark.

Not much makes me happier than to come up with an elegantly simple and almost cost-free solution to a problem.

A Different Kind Of Sharpening (for a different kind of “woodworking”)

It’s been a preposterously wet early autumn and my routine of firewood processing has been disrupted mightily.  It’s looking like there may be some break in the daily rain perhaps next month some time, at which time I will dive in with vigor in pursuit of my goal of cutting two years’ worth of firewood, which must be a dozen tons or so.  This is a pile of 24″ diameter bolts I cut the last nice day we had almost a month ago.

This year I have acquired a specialized sharpening tool to make my work faster.   Harvesting wood in the mountains is a challenge, not the least being that when trees are brought down the ground underneath them is rocky, rocks being our primary agricultural product here.  No matter how carefully you work with a chain saw it is only a matter of time before you nick the rocky soil with the running saw, inflicting great damage to the saw chain which requires a pretty thorough re-sharpening.   And, my saw is slightly under powered (read: “lighter than a concrete block”) which means I need the cutting to be as efficient as possible.

I’m pretty good at chain sharpening but I am not fast, so I explored this tool with great interest.    Though pricey, roughly the same as a high quality sharpening stone for my finer woodworking tools, it has proven to be absolutely worth it for me.  Acting as a reverse pencil sharpener that attaches directly to the saw bar and sharpening each tooth hollow with a quick turn of the carbide bit, then moving on to the next indexed tooth with alacrity, I can get even a damaged chain ready in a couple minutes.

Here is the whole process demonstrated in near-real-time.

Regarding Possessions

I am unapologetically fascinated with “tiny house” videos on youtube.com, and have been known to squander the better part of an evening watching them.  While I think for the most part the actual “Tiny House Movement” is silliness on steroids, featuring IMHO a disproportionate number of people longing to recapture pre-adolescent tree-house lives, I find many of the design solutions to the problem inspiring.  Still, the lives many of these enthusiasts lead are as alien to me as space creatures.  The thing that I think about the most is the de-cluttering gospel that virtually all of them preach.  It appears that none of them have any interests or hobbies outside of some weird combination of ascetic living/working and socializing, some as vagabonds in constant travel (Dante’s Seventh Circle of Hell to me) or even worse, in a megalopolis living in a closet surrounded by people.

Sure, we may all have too much stuff and much more space than we “need” and are too materialistic, but the thought of jettisoning my possessions and reducing my life to a Lowe’s storage shed leaves me non-plussed.  Come on, I have thousands of tools, virtually all of which get used with some degree of regularity during my productive days (I have to wonder how many of these folks have other domiciles or storage units somewhere.)

Divesting myself of all my possessions would be impoverishing, and not just in the material sense.  It would rob me of those things that give me great pleasure on several levels, like this hammer for example.  It was a gift years ago from my long-time friend, MikeM, who custom-made it to fit my hand and my needs.  He crafted it to be both exquisitely functional and beautiful with its hand-fashioned curly maple handle and brightly polished head (which I think was salvaged probably from a bucket of old tools) , and I use it several times almost every day as a utilitarian implement that always does its job.  When I do I get to reminisce about our decades of friendship, and that is a different treasure.

I have other possessions with similar importance to me, some tools, some books, some mementos of other kinds.  They are all powerful touchstones in my life.

But, if ever I get reduced to living in a shed, um, Tiny House, odds are pretty good this hammer is going with me.