30 July 2009

Golden Rule

I rightly suspect it's true that the vast majority of hobbyist woodworkers are happy just to potter along in their 'shops for a few hours each evening and I'm no exception. We generally have everything 'just so' depending on the way we each like to work...I'm Mr Tidy, so my shop is normally fairly organised and reasonably clean. Occasionally SWIMBO will sweep in just to keep track of what's happening, or Meg's will sneak inside, especially if she's got a vested interest (as in the 'puter desk) in the latest project...but apart from that, I'm left pretty much to my own devices, which suits me fine.

Except for last night.

Last night I had a visitor...Gareth! I've always noticed that it's a peculiar custom amongst cabinet makers (in a shared 'shop) that when you're looking at someone else's work, your hands are clasped tightly behind your back and you stoop forward, peering over the top of your glasses (if you wear them) so the Golden Rule is always 'lookee, no touchee'... but this unspoken rule doesn't seem to apply to bored out of their skull, maths graduates.

Gareth sauntered into the 'shop, with the inevitable Earl Grey brew clutched in his paw, which then got slopped over the bench...great start. He just cannot look at anything without touching and picking something up to examine it...so Tony's long mitre shoot was given a cursory once over and then dropped back onto the bench. He then spotted an ordinary pencil lying innocently on the take-off table, so that got picked up and jammed into my cork block, after which he proceeded to examine the 'Tool Wall' and saw my nylon faced hammer. With some obvious glee, this was used to see what sound could be produced by tapping it several times on various tools lying on the bench top, one of which happened to be a thick, chunky carpenters pencil. Unfortunately, he belted this on the chisel edge so that it leaped a couple of feet into the air and in doing so, broke it, so that I then had to retrieve a chisel from the rack and sharpen a new edge on the pencil...it's a good job I didn't do a little creative surgical remodeling with the LN.

Much as SWIMBO and I would do anything for our No1 son, the saving grace of this situation is that he starts his new job in the City on Monday so we've only got the weekend to survive...praise be!

29 July 2009

Bite sized

Having finished off the 'puter desk, I've got so much room, the 'shop now feels like the inside of a cathedral, which is rather pleasant. I did a bit more on Tony's long mitre shoot last night as this is probably the trickiest part of the project to get spot on. Rather than lash it together with screws (as I'd done for mine) I opted to biscuit the pieces together which in itself proved to be a bit of a 'head scratcher' as the main constituent parts are two 45deg triangles of wood with a sloping 'top', end and bottom, thus forming a sort of hollow box.

Usually, I'd blitz on and try and glue the whole thing up in one hit but on this occasion, remarkably for once, I decided to do the sensible thing and glue up in 'bite sized chunks'...(where have you heard that before I wonder?) so that the whole business became so much calmer...smooth waters rather than a violent squall. There was none of the dreaded panic when you inevitably try and glue too much at a time and the whole thing starts to go pear shaped, with the not unusual result of having to strip the job down, wash out the by now half congealed glue, retrieve the cramps, glue brush, sticks, rulers, cat and anything else that had been manically hurled into a corner...and start again.

The order of play then was to glue in the back...wait. Then glue on the sloping 'top' with specially made cramping blocks...and wait. The final stage was to glue the base after which the whole thing could be left overnight for the glue fully cure.
What I particularly liked though was my Lamello C3 as it was a joy to use such an accurate machine, coupled with the distinct advantage that for this type of construction, biscuits are ideal as they have that notional 'slidability' factor that allows you to nudge the joint into it's final position.

Fingers crossed, it all went together squarely...I hope.

27 July 2009

Shades of pale?

After a couple of weeks of work, the 'puter desk for Megs is in the final stage. I spent the better part of yesterday using a ROS and assorted grades of paper to bring it to a decent enough standard of finish. I like to use matt acrylic varnish now on these sorts of projects as I can gloop on a coat and then another about a half hour later...gone are the days of waiting for weeks on end (or so it seemed) for polyurethane to dry as the job seemed to be hanging around in the workshop forever and a day.

The really appealing thing about the acrylic however, is that it doesn't make the timber turn an instant 'mellow yellow' colour (now I'm being 'refined' here, when I could have been a bit more uncoof) rather the pine tends to keep its natural pale colour...and the brushes can be washed in water, which is even better. Having varnished all the pieces, I always leave it overnight just to cure properly (even though it's dry it tends to be a bit tacky) so tonight all the bits will be taken up to Meg's bedroom and assembled 'on site'

I moderately pleased with the drawer on this one, as it went together well and I managed to make it fit smoothly...a little candle wax on the runners will improve things tonight when it goes upstairs. The best piece of kit though, to fit a drawer (apart from a close mouthed smoother) is a set of mechanics feeler gauges, as by using them, I can accurately determine just where the high spots are on the drawer sides. If something like this is not used it really then becomes a matter of guess work and you tend to take a bit off all round and in the process, hope that you've removed the offending slither. The feeler gauge lets you know exactly where the drawer is binding so that only that small section can be planed...probably just a thin shaving or two is all that'll be needed to remedy the bump. The end result of course, is that the drawer then fits like a smooth piston rather than a sloppy, baggy box that rattles and bumps it's way into the opening. Planing off too much is very easily done and when the drawer fits badly it's intensely bloody annoying!

On the other hand, when it fits smoothly, one is left with a rather different sort of feeling...

24 July 2009

Guiding light...

I've been doing some pondering, as I do occasionally, over the last few days regarding honing guides, which is subject of some considerable angst amongst the woodworking fraternity...to use one or nae? Let me say, I'm not in the 'nae' camp as I'm one of those who find them invaluable. I can free-hand hone but the guide gives repeatably every time, which is it's main advantage, especially when using the much harder A2 steels. I use a modified Eclipse clone type with projection boards for each setting. Thus the blade registers from the flat side (as it's supposed to) and with my modification, the blades (chisel and plane) can easily be turned over so that the back and bevel can be honed on the stone...after all, a truly sharp edge is the intersection of two surfaces that meet at a predetermined angle, so both need to be honed alternately.

TheEclipse will hold pretty much everything (chisels and plane blades) but it does have a disadvantage, namely that as the roller makes contact with the stone (short DMT's in my case) only about 100mm of the stone can be used... which is fine but it would be better to be able to use all the stone.

So where have my ponderings led me? I've been considering the Kell series of guides which use a pair of rollers that run outboard of the blade being honed. This means in effect that on narrower blades, the rollers will be on the stone, but with wider blades, a pair of wooden guides would need to be screwed down level with the surface of the stone...not too daunting a task. The crucial disadvantage though, as I see it, is that as the wheels are so small, the blade projection is also small (12mm for 30deg) which means that it becomes very much more awkward to flip it over and hone the back with the blade in situ...'cos you haven't got enough room! The other thing that worries me is that to hone the complete range of chisels and plane blades, two Kell guides are recommended, a No1 and 2.

Not a problem really if you like beautiful, precision made tools, but it's going to irk me somewhat to cough up the best part of £80 when the current one I'm using does everything I need for the princely sum of less than a fiver! I've got the opportunity next Saturday to have another play with one as Matthew Platt from Workshop Heaven is bringing a couple of Kells to Michael's BBQ...so the jury is still out.

I wonder when LN are going to release their new honing gauge?...

21 July 2009

Skewered snorkers...

The very whisper of the word 'glue' or more specifically 'glue up' is likely to raise the hackles on any woodworker's neck as an anticipation of imminent or expected disaster. How many times have things gone disastrously wrong because some little detail like not having enough cramps (or even having cramps that haven't been pre-set to the right opening distance) can mean the difference between success and abject failure?

You know the sort of thing I'm talking about....

This is without doubt one of the tricksiest things to do in a 'shop ( especially if you work alone) so I've always been keen to find ways to make the whole ghastly trial and tribulation a bit easier.
One aspect of the issue is the glue itself. I generally use the white PVA adhesive for almost all the jobs in my 'shop and it irritates me intensely when the bottle gets half empty and all the goo starts to solidify round the interior of the supposedly 'easy dispensing' top...fine when it's a new bottle but after a couple of months of constant use...I think not!

How the hell are you supposed to get the wretched stuff out the bottle then? I usually use a small children's plastic glue spreader, great when the bottle's full, but the bloody thing won't reach the glue when it's half empty, with the consequence that I hold it by the first 3mm of the handle, stick it in the bottle and then get all the half congealed glue from the neck of the bottle all over my fingers when I try and scoop a bit up. Then when the glue gets a bit lower in the bottle, I then have to squeeze it to raise the level so that I can just dip the spreader into it...hands up if you've been there?

Getting completely hacked of with this situation, purely by accident I picked up a long bamboo skewer, several of which were lurking in a drawer, the sort of thing you incinerate snorkers with on a BBQ in the supposedly fine British summer. Now these have a decent hard waring point on one end and are about 300mm long, so that by dipping it into the glue, keeping the pinkies well clear of the neck, I can apply a moderate amount of glue to something like a biscuit slot and by using the sides of the skewer, the right amount of glue can easily be spread on the parts of a dovetail or interior of a mortise.

Inevitably, the glue does migrate up the skewer, so I just wipe it with a rag or let it harden off and then trim the by now hard glue with a craft knife. I'll still continue to use the spreader, but my bamboo skewer is now a definite 'must have' part of the glue-up process.

17 July 2009

'Shed pine...who'd have it?

Over the last couple of evenings I've been making progress with Meg's computer table and last night I was sorting out the drawer. It's been made in the usual way with lapped and through dovetails but cutting the sockets is proving to be a bit of a 'mare as the pine I'm using is soooooo soft and mushy it's proving a tad tricky.

True, the sawing is easy enough as as the stuff is so soft there's no difficulty in mushing the joints together...it's the chisel work that's awkward. I'm convinced that to do any long term work in this sort of stuff a separate set of chisels should be bought that can be honed at about 10deg so that it'll cut cleanly through it...either that or use a razor blade! My LN chisels are honed at 32deg which is just too great a pitch for very soft timber, so it's a really a bit a thankless task trying to use them on 'shed pine.

I did though try out a new (to me anyway) method of removing the waste from the sockets...rout it out! I set the router to the exact depth of the socket using the Axminster gauge blocks that I had for Christmas (and very useful they've proved too) and then set the fence so that the cutter just kissed the shoulder line. This meant that with a series of vertical plunges the waste was cleared out precisely to both scribed lines. It seemed to work quite well and left just the corners to clean out. The LN fishtails were particularly good here, but I came up against the same old problem...

...crap wood!!

I finished of the evening's activities by doing a little bit more on the shooting board project that I'm making for a good pal. To answer one specific question though, posed by a reader from far distant lands, the 'shute consists of two main large flat boards (made from mdf and ply) and the piece that can be seen on the underside is in fact a rectangular block of hardwood, so that in use it's hooked over the front of the bench (or secured in a vice) in much the same way as an ordinary bench hook.

I sorted out the first of the mitre attachments by planing it to fit onto the main 'shute. The next thing to do is to plane down the 45deg slope so that it makes a dead accurate mitre, which ought not to be too onerous, after which it's the slightly more adventurous long mitre jig...

13 July 2009

Go west...

Activities in the workshop were suspended for a while over the weekend as SWIMBO and I spent a very pleasant weekend with some friends in Torquay. Shortly before Christmas, we had a new computer system installed at work (to cut a long story sideways, it's going in across the entire MOD) and one of the 'floorwalkers' came to stay with us for a few weeks when it was being put in so Carol subsequently invited us down to Torquay for the weekend.
We arrived at Carol and Chris's place around 830ish on Friday evening and after a brew got down to the serious business of catching up with all the gossip and after a couple or three bottles of very pleasant vino we retired at around midnight.Saturday was spent having a look at Chris's kitchen showroom and I was totally amazed by the demonstration of the induction hob...now that really is a very, very swish piece of kit (as well as being free and gratis if you spend over £3.5K on furniture) ...I wonder if there's an application for one in the 'shop?..probably not. I was also impressed by the very high standard of the kitchens on display coupled with the care and attention that clearly goes into making sure that the customer obtains exactly the specification of kitchen required.
We then had a walk round Babacombe ( stopping off for a brew and chips on the sea front) in typically English summer weather of grey sky and light 'mizzle' that seems to soak every inch, but as we were togged out in our Gortex coats, it didn't make much impression...still, it would have been more pleasant to see sunshine at the seaside!
Chris took us all out for a run out to Dartmoor on Sunday as the weather had cheered up somewhat and was much sunnier. After stopping at Haytor, we drove through Widdecombe-in-the-Moor and stopped off for a Devon cream tea (what else can you have in Devon?..except I didn't have any cream) at a rather nice 'oldy-worldy T shoppe' situated just by the rather impressive church in the centre of the village.
The innocuous looking concrete slope is one of many along the south coast of England that were used as embarkation ramps for the troops on 'D' day. This one was used by American GI's and is called 'Vanishing Point' which is what the lights spell out in Morse Code. The troops stepped into the landing craft on the ramp and many vanished, never to return...although the vast majority of listless holiday makers innocently sucking on their ice creams had no idea of the significance of the lights at their feet.

All told, a very pleasant weekend away...but I'm sure we didn't get through that much vino!

08 July 2009

That which is lost...

After searching fruitlessly in all the odd corners of the 'shop over the last couple of months, my long treasured pot of Vaseline has finally re-emerged, having been lurking undisturbed in a cardboard box in the house. How it got there, I have absolutely no idea, but it's now been restored to it's rightful position in the drawer under the honing bench.

So it's appropriate then, that I offer the most 'umble and sincere apologies to anyone remotely under suspicion of tea-leafing it...but I'm sure there was a bit more in it a few months ago!

On an entirely different note, it's amazing how different jobs crop up that need one's immediate attention. My daughter is going to do an MA in the Autumn in Forensic Archaeology (that's studying old skellingtons) and has just bought a very tasty MacBook computer, so I'd said that I'd make her a desk for her room. "When do you want it for Megs?" says I...hoping that some time in the next couple of months would suit.

"Next week will be OK, ta" replies Megs.

What can you say except...

"fine, no worries, I'll crack on with it"

...so me and SWIMBO had no option but to have a run out to In-Excess in the Landy at the weekend and pick up some decent 25mm laminated pine boards that were going for a song...certainly a quarter the price of similar stuff in the 'sheds' in town. I don't mind using it for these sorts of projects 'cos it saves all the hassle of preparing the timber stock and means that a reasonable job can be knocked out relatively quickly. By the close of play on Sunday night I'd managed to sort out the main unit, top, dovetailed plinth and end frame. The next bits to do will be to make the drawer and the stand for the printer, which ought not to take too long. Construction is pretty fundamental as most of the timber was squared on the K419 tablesaur and then banged together with biscuits, so a lot can be achieved quite quickly.

On a more sombre tone, speaking of things that are lost, I had to have one of our cats put down last night at the vets. We'd had Smokey (a pedigree British Blue) since she was a kitten in 1994, so she was over 15 years old, which is a good age for any cat. She'd developed a urinary infection and was continually passing blood mixed with urine (caused by a large stone in her bladder according to the vet) and that particular area was just starting to get infested with maggots. She also had a heart defect and was starting to become seriously arthritic. The vet clipped all the fur away and after some discussion agreed that she was suffering and the kindest thing to do was to put her down, which I agreed to. Megs was with me in the surgery and was fairly devastated, but she also said that leaving her with the vet was the best and kindest thing to do. Decisions like this are never easy and I was pretty choked as well, but logic has to prevail and the right decision has to be taken, which I think I did.

So all in all, a fairly crap evening had by all...c'est la vie, ne'st pas?

03 July 2009

Doors close...and open!!

What a week!..but to set matters a little straighter, let me explain. As I said earlier, we were delighted that Gareth had got a good honours degree in Maths from an excellent university, but not quite so enthralled with the prospect of seeing him unemployed, along with countless other graduates, for what could have been a very long time. The idea of him kicking around Salisbury for months on end with nothing to do wasn't the most appetising of thoughts and quite frankly one that Alyson and I were not looking forward to, and if truth be told, neither was Gareth.

However, events turned out a little differently, as I'll reveal in due course...

We motored up to Newark-on-Trent to see my brother (and what a crap drive it was too) and as promised, an extremely pleasant, booze induced evening was had by all. Round about 1030ish, in some sort of alcohol fueled haze I decided to check my mobile 'fone, something I rarely ever do as I hate the bloody things with vengeance (but that's another story). There was just one message on it from Gareth, consisting of just one word...
I was so knocked out that it cost my brother the better part of a bottle of malt whisky and a 'fone call to Gareth enquiring after his health, more precisely, if ...'he wasn't pissed by now, why not?' (to which he replied that he was working on it) confirmed that he did indeed have a job with Blackrock investments which had been confirmed only that afternoon, having been interviewed in London the previous day.
That really set the tone for the rest of the break, which as it transpires was very enjoyable.
We continued round to Edinburgh the next day (no time unfortunately for Lindersfarne) and sorted ourselves out with our accommodation at Chancellors Court which was very good. Sunday was spent on the Isle of May, a wildlife sanctuary in the Firth of Forth, with vast numbers of puffins and other bird life. Monday was spent having a look round Edinburgh, in particular the Scotch Whisky Experience which I thoroughly enjoyed and later on that day we had a historical trip to visit the Real Mary King's Close. I didn't realise at the time, but there's a whole subterranean labyrinth of ancient streets (or closes) beneath the Royal Mile that have over the intervening centuries been built over leaving just the lower stories, complete with ghosts and goulies...the description of the occupants living conditions, particularly their hygiene habits are not pleasant, especially at meal times!
Tuesday saw the graduation in the university's very grand hall, which was uplifting, if not a trifle hot on the day...my sympathies went out to the students in the 'cheap seats' whilst those of us in the 'Gods' were at least a little cooler. The evening saw us all go out for a fantastic graduation feast at Gusto's which was one of the most enjoyable meals I've had in a restaurant for a long time.
Wednesday saw me packing up all Gareth's assorted crap into the Landrover ready for the long haul home the following day (which also happened to be the hottest day of the year so far)...good job the Landy had air conditioning!