Monthly Archives: April 2012

No Wood Weekend

I had to do some welding today, so I haven’t been able to make progress on my saw chest.  Hopefully after I do homework with my son I can sneak in an hour or two for some woodwork.

Luckily it was cooler today, it was in the 90s yesterday.  Welding on a 90+ degree day is my favorite thing not to do.  I put on my ear buds and cranked up my favorite playlist and went to work.  I have these tanks cast in aluminum, in halves.  I TIG weld them with 1/8″ 4043 rod using a 1/8″ lanthanated electrode at 190 amps AC.  I have a newer inverter style Miller welder, my old transformer based 300ABP had to run flat out at 300 amps to do the exact same weld.

I do two passes, a root pass in a beveled joint, then a cover pass.  I go for penetration on the first pass and a nice flow out on the second pass.  The part gets quite hot along the way.  And I had Ray Wylie Hubbard cranked up.

I welded up a bunch of headlight mounts while the tanks were cooling down, then I had to grind the weld and make it disappear.  50 grit to flatten the weld bead, then A300, A160 and A65 3M Trizact Gatorback to get it to this point.

The rest of the tank is then worked up to the same point, and sent off to the chrome shop.  This is what the finished product looks like.

Now I need to get back to my saw chest.  I’m constantly shuffling my planes, saws and chisels from the welding bench to the wobbly cabinet bench to make room.  Once the chest is done at least the saws will have a home and stay clean.

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Making Stuff in 1931

My blog buddy Marilyn sent me a link to a cool video that I want to share.

As best I can tell, based on my rusty high school Spanish and attempting to read French, this is a film that was made in 1931 that shows students at several “professional” schools around France.  There is blacksmithing, machining, pattern work in preparation for casting parts, foundry work, drafting, electronics and radio, and of course carving and cabinet making.  Actually I figured that out from the pictures, my high school Spanish doesn’t even cut it for ordering lunch at the local taqueria.

There are also more berets than you can shake a stick at, and a general dearth of safety glasses.  One of the things that caught me interest was the number of people working at once.  My experience is primarily working in my own shop.  At one point I had five people come to my shop on Saturdays to grind, sand and polish chopper parts – but most of my experience is working alone in my shop.  To see a dozen people vigorously planing, chiseling, sawing and hammering is pretty amazing.  The slightly stiff, slightly sped-up-ness of the video helps too.

The video is available here:

My friend Ron wanted to know if wearing a beret would help my dovetails.  Honestly, some days I’d be willing to try.

Paring Dovetails in France, 1931

The Cabinet Shop, Right Side

The Cabinet Shop, Left Side

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Chopping Mortises

I started making the top for my saw chest recently.  It’s going to be a frame and panel construction with the stiles having tenons that fit into blind mortises in the rails.  Or maybe through mortises, we’ll see.

I made the frame, and wasn’t satisfied with it.  There were a few problems:

First the groove I cut with my plow plane was a little rough.  I added a wood extension to the fence on the plane to help stabilize it, and reduced the depth of cut – that seemed to take care of most of the problem.  The rest is just paying attention and keeping the cuts consistent.

Second, the tenons weren’t snug enough I think.  They weren’t loose, they didn’t wiggle around, and they fit right from the saw – but I think I want to be able to have the fit be a little tighter.

Finally, the frame didn’t lay flat when it was dry assembled.  At first I thought it was one of the tenons, but it turned out to be one of the mortises was chopped slightly at an angle.  If I assembled the frame with one corner not inserted into the mortise that stile would angle up in the air while the other three sides laid flat on the bench.  Rats.

So, three strikes and it was kindling (or as my son says “Epic Fail”).

I decided to practice chopping mortises.  The new “Make a Joint Stool from a Tree” book from Lost Art Press has some great information on chopping mortises.  I tried to apply what I read to my practice.  Now I need to go back and re-read it to make sure I didn’t miss the point.

I started by working with the chisel at an angle, with the bevel almost vertical.  One or two whacks with the mallet – I’m not trying to reach the bottom of the mortise yet.  This practice part has the groove for the panel plowed, but that has nothing to do with the mortise itself.

Then turn the chisel around so the bevel faces the other direction and make a cut to meet the first cut.

If all goes well you should have a smal triangular chip just pop out.  By the way, see that black “patina” on the tenon in the background?  That is polishing residue.  We’re going to make some shop setup changes to avoid that kind of mess in the future.

Now continue working from the sides, at an angle, until you reach the bottom.  Stay away from your layout lines  until you are at full depth for the entire width except for an 1/8″ or so at the shoulder.  With each angled cut you can go a bit deeper and still pop the chip out without trouble.  Make sure you’re holding the chisel plumb to the sides of the mortise – that was one of my mistakes.

You should be able to accumulate a pile of chunky chips fairly quickly.  This 1/4″ x 2″ mortise 1 1/2″ deep took no time at all in white pine.  I’m going to make some practice mortises in other kinds of wood for comparison.

To do the final cleanup of the bottom and get the last of the chunks out I used a swan neck chisel.

The finished mortise.  It’s not perfect, I bruised the side of the plowed groove prying a chip out, but I’m comfortable with the process now.  I think I’m ready to have another run at the lid for my saw chest now.  I also picked up some better quality pine, clear pine, at Southern Lumber.  All clear pine is 20% off for the next week!


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Making a Plane Adjusting Hammer, Part 2

My son and I took a break from doing his homework (who gives homework over spring break, I ask you?) and adjourned to the shop.  I wanted to make a handle for the brass head I made the other day.  Kolya wanted to make one too, but I made him read me his English assignment first.  Two birds, one stone.

I’ve never made a hammer handle before, I’m sure the next one will be better.  Basically I traced the hole in the head onto the end grain.  This is a scrap of 6/4 Cherry I had.

Then I sketched out the rough profile I wanted on the side, and cut it out with a coping saw.

 I had a spokeshave that I picked up years ago in my power tool days (and had never used).  I sharpened the blade and used it to shape the handle  I used a fine tooth rasp to sneak up on the fit of the handle into the head, and to blend the flats left from the spokeshave.  Then I used a scraper to smooth it out and a quick once over with 220.

I attached the head with a wedge (and yes, managed to split the wood slightly, damn it).  A quick coat of stain and oil and I’m done.  I’ll probably work more finish into the handle over the next few days, but it’s functional now.  It was a fun project.

After my son finished reading his English chapter to me he wanted to make a handle too.  He used a piece of Easter Red Cedar that he picked out of the scrap bin at the lumberyard the last time we were there.  He did it all himself with minimal coaching from yours truly.  He took this picture too, choosing the angle to avoid showing the bit of handle that sticks out above the head.  It was fun to hang out in the shop with him, and he even convinced me to take him to WIA in Pasadena in the fall.  We’re registered, see you there!

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Scottish Mitre Plane

True confessions: I’m a tool addict.  I love tools.  I could almost imagine being a tool collector, but that doesn’t quite ring true for me.  I like using the tools and making things too much.  But it’s that close.

I like to make tools too.  I made a few chisels and wooden planes years ago when I was doing power tool woodworking.  I gave away most of the chisels as gifts, but I still have this one.  It’s O1 tool steel on the bottom, forge welded to a steel and nickel damascus billet.  I shaped the handle to fit my hand, with the idea of using it to pare joints.

Lately I’ve been thinking about making some metal bodied planes.  My first thought was a “Lancashire pattern shoulder plane” like this one.  It’s an interesting design and I haven’t seen a lot of them around.  I’ve been collecting pictures of them, and there is a lot going for this design over a standard shoulder plane – like the skewed blade and the handle.

But lately I’ve been leaning toward a miter plane.  Since I had my CAD software fired up last night to program the toolpaths for the plane adjusting hammer I started doodling around with some ideas for a Scottish Mitre plane.

I started with the basic geometry, 15″ long, 10 degree bed angle, bevel up, 25 degree primary bevel, 1/4″ thick by 2″ wide blade.  The throat is 1/3 of the way back from the front.  I mapped out the basic dimensions in SolidWorks and then just roughed in a design.  I’m not totally happy with it, but it’s a starting point.  I need to look at more images of traditional infill mitre planes, and just stare at this one for a while.  I think it needs to be a bit wider, and I want to play with different shapes for the side profile.  Some mitre planes are flat across the top, I think that would help with the alignment when shooting.  Since I a low bed angle I need to have the back cut away for the blade to exit.  But this is how design works for me – I get a first cut done, then make alternate versions and see what works visually.

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Making a Plane Adjusting Hammer, Part 1

I’ve been collecting odds and ends to set up my metalworking lathe for woodturning.  It shouldn’t be a big deal, but then I should know better than to say that.  I had the design for a tool rest all planned out in my head. When I walked into the shop today I realized that the place where I was planning on mounting the tool rest was already at the centerline of the spindle…way too high.  Rats.

But while I was sweeping up the polishing debris I came across a piece of brass round bar stock.  I have all sorts of metal odds and ends laying around.   I’ve been wanting to make a little plane adjusting hammer, and lookie here I have a piece of brass in my hand.

I started out by cutting the stock into 3.75″ long pieces in the cold saw.  I wanted a finished length of 3.5″, plus a little extra to machine the ends square.

I cut up all the stock I had, then cleaned it and de-burred the ends.  Making multiples of a part seems to a some sort of hangover from the chopper business – if I’m making one I might as well make a bunch.  I’ll probably grow out of it eventually.

Then I programmed the mill to square one end, pause (so I could flip the part end-for-end) mill the other end square and machine a square hole in the middle.  The hole is .400″ wide and .750″ long with radiused corners.  I have a book on making wooden planes that shows making an adjusting hammer by just drilling a hole for the handle.  That would work too, this way there won’t be any chance of the head turning on the handle.

After milling the handle hole I chucked them up in my lathe, cut a small chamfer on the end and two decorative grooves.  Nothing terribly precise, just eyeball engineering.

The brass stock had a few dings from kicking around my shop for years, so I belt sanded it with an A65 3M Gatorback Trizact belt.  I love those belts, they cut great (on metal) and have a really uniform grit.  Huge timesavers when you’re making parts smooth and shiny.

Then I hit the on a 600 grit cork belt with green chromium rouge.  I wanted a fine satin finish, polished shows every fingerprint and nick.

So now I just need to make a handle.  Just one.  I’ll give the extra heads away or something.  Now to find a nice bit of wood to abuse into a handle.

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I Hate Polishing

For the 3 people that follow my pitiful blog you’ve probably noticed that I haven’t had a lot of content the past couple of weeks.  I can explain, really.

Several years ago I had an Idea.  My friends know by now that is usually a sign to run in the opposite direction.  My Idea was to design and manufacture and sell a line of custom motorcycle parts.  Not that I’m a “biker” per se.  I’ve had a few motorcycles and ride occasionally, but really this was about making stuff.  Having an idea (lowercase) for a part, working out the design, figuring out how to make it, and then making it and trying to sell it.  It has been an interesting experience, and I’ve learned a lot – although perhaps not the things I thought I would.

I discovered that I really enjoy having an idea for a design, and figuring out how to make it.  I like making the first one.  I even like figuring out the manufacturing to make a batch of them.  Making the first 10 to 20 is OK, after that it’s a grind.  The first part I designed was a gas cap for choppers.  It’s an adaptation of a vintage race car part the originated on the early Miller race cars in the 1920s, and was popularized by Hallibrand in the 1950’s.  My spin was to scale it down, and try to pack as many details and curves into it as I could.  The original parts were perhaps 6″ in diamater, my design was about half that.

To start I had to learn enough CAD to be able to model the part.  I started manufacturing by using an outsource company to machine these out of solid Aluminum, but that was expensive and each part required a not of hand work to remove the machining marks.  I learned about producing Stereolithography masters, foundry patterns and casting.  I went through several changes in manufacturing to deal with quality and cost.  The worst part about making these caps is polishing the Stainless Steel locking arms.

At first the arms were cut from mill-finish sheet.  Each one had to be individually sanded starting with 120 and working up to about 600 grit, then polished.  Holding on to the little tiny parts was impossible, so I made several different fixtures to hold them.  Over time I refined the materials and process to simplify things.  I also got really good at polishing, and I grew to hate it.  I should have paid attention to that.

As I developed more products each of them ended up requiring grinding, sanding and often polishing.  All of these things are hugely messy.

Let me tell you about polishing.  It’s fundamentally simple, you hold the part up to the buffer and it gets shiny.  But you have to have a true surface first, which means grinding and sanding to  remove parting lines and sand texture from castings, rough edges from laser or waterjet cut parts, or tooling marks from machining.  Then you sand until the scratches are very fine, then you work through several steps of polishing at the buffer.  It’s messy, dirty, backbreaking work.  The result is amazing, but it’s not a lot of fun getting there.

The polishing compound is a very fine abrasive in a greasy/waxy binder.  The buffs are cotton and hemp.  If you lose your focus while polishing the buff can snag the part out of your hand and fling it onto the floor (go back to step 1).  At the same time, the part is too hot to hold, and the buffer is flinging fuzz from the buffs and dirt from the compound everywhere.  It floats in the air, gets in your eyes and other places best not imagined.  The worst is that it makes the entire shop dirty, and that is the real point here.

I quickly outsourced most of the polishing required, and have since hired someone to run the chopper parts business so I can hold down a day job and raise my son.  My employee is fantastic, she handles 99% of everything for the business…including the polishing.  But the mess from the polishing is phenomenal, it’s everywhere.  It gets on my tools, my other projects, everywhere.

I have to do something to change this because, honestly, it’s driving me crazy.  Maybe a giant dust collector to start, and wall off the messy areas in the shop?  All of the usual constraints apply unfortunately (time, money).  But this is a problem I need to solve before I can get back to enjoying woodworking.

I have an Idea…

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