Catching up

Over the past few years I have made a lot of sawdust, added a few tools, and coaxed some useful things out of lumber in my wood shop. To help raise funds for a mission trip to Haiti a few years back I made a number of small boxes (my “signature” piece is a little sliding lid box that holds two decks of cards and 5 dice), tea-light candle holders of various shapes and styles, and some boxes that hold 3×5 index cards. I’ve made gifts for my family and friends, including various games (Quoridor, Quatro, Quarkle–the “Q-game” triumvirate), and more recently, a cribbage board and a set of wooden hexes and other pieces for Settlers of Catan.

I’ve made three chess sets with boards–the pieces were cut from square stock, not turned; the boards were in four pieces that are held together with rare-earth magnets, and both board and pieces were designed to fit into a box with a sliding lid.

I have made some useful jigs, including John Heiszman’s box-joint jig, among many others that were assembled for a time while needed then disassembled.

I’ve done some furniture repairs: several chairs of different types, both old and newer, and I fixed a friend’s table, the top of which had split at the glue joints. I also did a major (>$1k) commission project: a pair of dining tables for the deck of some friends who had just built a new home with a nice cedar deck. The tables were my own design–one was 3’x3′, the other had drop-down leaves, but when the leaves are up it measures 3’x6′. I made them out of cypress, with slat-tops. They turned out pretty nice, and I’ve had the pleasure of dining at my friends’ home, at one of those tables. It’s so nice to get to see someone use something you’ve made for them, and to see how it enriches their life.

I acquired a practically-new dust collector that has really made working in my shop a much more pleasant experience. It was an older Porter-Cable model that is no longer sold, but the previous owner had scarcely used it at all.

The wood shop continues to be a happy place for me; I always look forward to time spent there, and I hope to be able to spend more time there in the years ahead. It’s hard to beat the satisfaction that one gets from making something both beautiful and useful from wood.

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Too…much…wood…?

Stay with me on this…

I started working with page layouts and typography and such back in the ’70s, when, if you were lucky, you had an IBM Selectric with more than one type ball.  If I wanted anything fancy, I had to buy Letraset rub-on lettering or break out the Speedball pen nibs and India ink and do it myself.  Then in the ’80s and ’90s, desktop publishing technology made it possible for anyone with a computer and a laser printer to use as many different fonts and styles as they wanted.  The fact that you could use ten different fonts in a document didn’t necessarily mean that you should,  but unfortunately, many people did just that, and as a result, there was a lot of really awful document design out there.

Back to woodworking…it seems to me that everywhere I look these days I’m seeing project after project where the woodworker has used as many different wood species as he could get his hands on, and while I was initially impressed with the variety, any more it feels a little like looking at a document with ten different fonts, some of which don’t really look good together.  I’ve seen photographs of a number of projects in which there were three, four, five, even six different wood species used, and often in not very attractive ways.  So it begs the question:  Do we really need to use so many different species in one project? And if we’re going to use more than one wood species, shouldn’t we at least try to use woods that look reasonably good together?

I’m just saying.

Shop update, June 2011

Clearly it’s been a while since I last posted, but while the busy-ness of life has limited my shop time in recent weeks, I’ve been getting a few things done here and there.  Some of it has been shop set-up and clean-up and such, but some has been actual woodworking.

Early last month, my brother, who just bought a brand-new 14″ Jet bandsaw, brought over my dad’s old Craftsman bandsaw (which he no longer has any need for), so I built a new stand for it and set it up.  It’s a three-wheel model, the venerated (by some) Sears model 103.24300, purchased second-hand by my father in 1951, three years before I was born.  He doesn’t know how long the guy before him had it.  But when I plugged it in and fired it up, it still worked!  Resaw capacity is probably all of three and a half inches (!), and I’ve still had little luck tensioning the blade properly so I can cut a reasonably accurate curve; the rubber tires on all three wheels are as hard as rock and need to be replaced, but be that as it may, this thing still works!  I’m sure that one of these days I’ll set it aside for a newer, bigger, better bandsaw, but I doubt I’ll ever get rid of it.

The bandsaw came to me with a rickety, wobbly stand that I suspect came with it when my dad bought it in ’51, but I quickly decided that it needed a more sturdy base, so I ripped up some reclaimed plywood and made one, relocating the motor in the process–the motor had been hanging off the back end of the old stand, and I made a little hinged platform for it underneath the stand and mounted the motor below the saw, cutting a slot in the top of the stand for the belt (and I did buy a new belt–the original was pretty cracked and worn).

So that was fun.  I’ve also continued to work on various types and styles of boxes, nearly all made from offcuts and reclaimed wood of various species.  One recent box I made (the largest I’ve made so far) has no fewer than five species of wood in it, including mahogany, curly maple, walnut, cherry and pine.  That box is intended to be a tea box (for storing various flavors of tea bags), and will be a housewarming gift for some dear friends.  (I’ll post photos in my next post.)

I made two other small boxes, both inspired by Doug Stowe’s boxmaking book, Basic Box Making.  One, which is very similar to the one in the foreground on the cover of the book, will be a gift for another dear friend, and the other was more or less an experiment in joinery that turned out pretty good–I gave it to my lovely wife.

I’m working on some other ideas and designs, but along the way I’m also learning a good deal about resawing on the table saw (since my bandsaw is pretty useless for that at the moment).  Except for the larger amount of waste involved in the larger kerf, I’m liking this method of producing thin stock.  After planing, I can sometimes get two quarter-inch thick boards from a three-quarter-inch board, which makes a lot more sense than planing two thirds of the thickness away to make a thin board.  My DeWalt 734 thickness planer has no trouble planing stock down to an eighth of an inch thick–so far I’m really pleased with that machine.

Some of the wood I’ve used on a couple of these box projects came from an old drawer front from a broken-down chest of drawers that sat unused in my garage for more than a decade. I have no idea what kind of wood it is, but it has a beautiful, tight grain that is sort of a creamy tan color.  It isn’t maple, walnut, cherry or oak–and it’s definitely a hardwood.  The drawer fronts on this chest were actually glued up from two or more pieces of this wood; and the fragrance of this particular wood is really amazing.  It seems like a familiar scent, but I can’t place it.  I’m going to get to the bottom of this, because if I can find more of this wood somewhere, I will definitely use it again. The only downside I’ve found is that it seems to be just a little bit brittle, but I wonder if that’s partly because of its age (and dryness)–I wouldn’t know for sure.  But the next time I’m in a lumberyard, you can bet I’ll be sniffing boards 🙂

The issue of dust collection is becoming one that I will probably have to address soon–I’ve noticed some sinus issues, particularly after working with mahogany and walnut, and when I run my planer (or my router, or my saw, or my random-orbit sander–okay, ANY power tool), the dust makes a mess.  I feel like I spend more time cleaning up than I do in actual woodworking, but what’s more important is, I’m afraid to think about what’s happening to my own lungs in this process.

I’ve tried to use the cheap-o dust masks, but they nearly always cause my eyeglasses to fog up, and I’m nearly blind without my glasses.  That’s probably the problem–I haven’t ponied up for a “real” respirator mask yet (yeah, I’m cheap).  Even if I could afford a small DC system, I have no idea how I would shoehorn it into my shop.  But I have a feeling (cough, cough, hack, snort) that I will have to deal with this issue pretty soon.

More news later…and photos of my box projects…

A warm snap gets me a little closer

About a week ago we had an unusually warm spell for January in Kansas, with temperatures in the upper 40s and lower 50s (this week it’s been more like the 20s), so I took advantage of a couple of warm days and finished up all of the wiring, put up the insulation, and put up the OSB panels in my garage.  I wasn’t able to get it completely done before the cold weather set in again, but all that’s left to do is the area surrounding the garage door.

I had my dad come over to “supervise” while I installed the circuit breakers in the new sub-panel,  hooked up all the wiring, and turned on the power for the first time.  No sparks, no blown breakers.  I checked all of the outlets with one of those little outlet checkers that lights up a certain combination of lights if everything is wired properly, and every outlet checked out just fine, including the 240-volt outlet I installed for the table saw.

The insulation went up in about four hours, and the bulk of the OSB paneling took another four or five hours, even with all the measuring and cutting I had to do for the outlets and the window.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a lot of photos during the construction process–I was pretty focused on getting the work done.  I’ll post a couple of shots of the almost-finished work soon.

Recent project update:

The baby crib I made for my new granddaughter this past fall had some issues when I took it over to my daughter’s house and assembled it.  The end panels are joined to the front and back panels with connecting bolts that screw into steel cross-dowels in the end panels, and the maple-veneer plywood I used for the main parts of those panels was so soft that the cross-dowels pulled through the plys and essentially ruined the end panels.  So I’m in the process of replacing those panel elements with solid maple.  With some luck, I’ll be done with this project before my granddaughter is too big to sleep in the crib!