Thursday, March 19, 2015

Vase and Flowers from Trail Debris

In early February, I took my daughter to a natural area near our house.  She rode her tricycle along the path, and stopped to pick up all kinds of debris.  Dried up weeds, bits of branches that had blown off trees, pinecones, etc.  Most of it she tried to bring home, packing it along on the back of the trike or trying to make me carry it.  At first I furtively tossed it back into the woods when she wasn't looking, but then she handed me a big clump and I got an idea.  So we collected a few handfuls, and I snapped off a dry teasel stem that had survived the winter.

Back at the parking lot, we went to look around in a wooded area that had been cleared of underbrush a couple of years before.  I found a wet chunk of mystery log, only slightly rotted, and we took it home with the other materials.  She insisted on hauling the log into the garage on her own.

 Back in the shop, here's a "before" kind of shot.

I cut the log in half on the bandsaw.  I can't identify the wood species, but I suspect it to be Prunus laurocerasus, English or Cherry Laurel.  It's a common invasive escapee in the woodlands around the city.  The wood was pretty dense, had no odor, and had a bit of spalting.  I quartered the round to make a blank for the lathe.

Once I got it on the lathe, it wasn't the best turning material.  Chunks tore out during roughing, and it cut fuzzy unless I used a very sharp skew and a light cut.  I sketched an outline on the blank before I started the shaping.

I sanded the little vase, but didn't put any finish on it, mostly because it was still soaking wet.  If it doesn't self-destruct from the drying process, I might put some shellac on it in a few months.  All in all, it turned out pretty cute for something made of materials collected by a toddler.

Not bad for "flowers" in mid-winter

Thursday, March 5, 2015

New Mallets

My mom used to have four beech trees along her driveway.  One by one, they've come down over the past several years, and I've made use of the wood.  One tree had a fungus issue, so I let the log lay on the ground for a while and then sawed it into boards on the band saw, which gave me a small stack of spalted wood.  I still haven't had the guts to make it into anything.

Last fall, I found a piece of another tree in her firewood pile, and I decided to confiscate it and make a couple of mallets.  I cut off a blank and turned it into a large carving type mallet on the lathe, which was fun and pretty easy.  Beech turns well.  I used the plan in Fine Woodworking's 2013 Tools & Shops issue as a baseline for dimensions.  I think I've decided I don't particularly like big round mallets, and the handle is a little chunky for my hands.  But it is pretty and does a really good job of sealing quart size paint cans when you use the round end as the whacker.

Beech turning blank cut at the bandsaw
With some creativity at the band saw, I managed to get enough from the offcuts from that to make a traditional two-piece joiner's mallet.  Check out The Woodwright's Shop "Big Ash Mallet" episode from Sept. 2013 for the general idea.
beech blanks for a joiner's mallet - they're bigger than they look
The handle was sawn, planed to shape the taper and smooth the surface, and then turned to round off the grip portion.  The end of the handle had a pretty good end-grain split going, so I turned a 3/4" tenon on the end and made a walnut cap that I attached with a small screw.  The cap provides a nice stop to the end of the grip, and the grain runs across the crack in the beech handle, preventing it from getting any wider or splintering.
3/4" spigot on the end of the handle...
The head was a lot more work than I expected.  I marked out the tapered through-mortise, and then used a brace and bit to bore a 7/8" hole through the middle.  The spiral of wood that came out of the auger can't be called a shaving or a chip.  It was more like a piece of leather, fibrous and tough.  Then I chopped, and chopped, and chopped, mostly using a 5/16" pig-sticker style mortising chisel.  Beech planes fine, and light cuts are no problem.  I can pare thin slices of end-grain with a sharp chisel by hand, but trying to bite off a bigger chunk, or plunge deeply into solid wood was just not happening, so I resorted to nibbling out the mortise bit by bit.
Mortising the head starts out with boring, and
doesn't really get any more exciting later on.
Fortunately, it went together well, and can apply a hell of a whack to a big mortising chisel or other stout tool.  I don't use it an awful lot, because I have a rubber deadblow mallet for assembly tasks (less chance of bruising the finished surface) and it's just too much of a beast for most smaller-scale work.

Here's a photo of my three mallets.  The smaller one is also beech, made a decade ago from scraps of trim material from the building I work in.  I didn't have any pieces big enough to make a head out of, so I laminated several smaller blocks together.  I think I used a chunk of 2x4 framing lumber as a mallet to cut the mortise in the head, since I didn't have any sort of mallet at that time.  It was my first "real" mallet, and it's held up well.  I've beaten a lot of things into submission with it and it turns out to be the one I still reach for most of the time.  I guess I could make a new prettier replacement for it.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Restoring a Disston D-8 Panel Saw

A couple of years ago, I helped out in a neighborhood tool library.  We got a big influx of tools from one of our members' father's estate.  Among them was this little panel saw, quite rusty and far from usable.  The lower part of the handle was broken off, but I could read Disston on the medallion.  I thought it was highly unlikely that anyone would make use of it, so I asked the donor if I could have it, and he said ok.  It's hung on my tool rack for a long time.  I had some hope that it was a decent old tool, and I finally got around to restoring it this week.
Old Disston Panel Saw
I started by taking it apart, which was fortunately very easy.  The brass hardware is plated, which prevented corrosion inside the threads.  Then I wrapped a small piece of 220 grit sandpaper around a block of foam and applied a lot of elbow grease to the rusty saw plate, using plenty of WD-40 as a lubricant.  I used a scrap of plywood under the saw to prevent my bench from getting mucked up with the rusty oil slurry.  I wiped down the surface with paper towels, and another round with a new piece of sandpaper revealed the surface of the saw plate.

I was surprised to find that the etch was revealed, as well as the "10" stamped near the heel of the blade.  So I've got a 10 tpi Disston D-8 with a 20" blade, dating from somewhere in the 1947 to 1955 range, based on the "Disston USA" medallion.  The handle appears to be apple, not beech, which suggests 1947.  It was filed with a crosscut tooth configuration.

I'm going to make a new handle, maybe out of cherry, or maybe I'll go get a piece of apple or pear if I can find it easily.  The hardest part of making this handle will be forming the slot for the blade.  The D-8 slot was cut with a thin circular saw, which kept the top of the handle closed and helped hold the blade steady even if the hardware came loose.  This will be a challenge, since I don't have a circular saw that thin.  I might have to do something creative.

Another blogger cleaned up a nearly-identical saw last summer.  Take a look at Jonathan White's Bench Blog here.

Update:  Here's the saw, with a new cherry handle.
Cleaned up, but not yet sharpened
Here's how I got from here to there.  I took a blank of 5/4 cherry, and drew a rough outline of the handle shape using the old handle as a template.  Then I used the blade to precisely mark the location of the four bolt holes, and drilled them at the drill press with a 1/4" bradpoint bit.  Then I used a new 3/4 x 3tpi blade (to get a really nice cut) to resaw the blank in half at the band saw.  I smoothed the cut surfaces with hand planes, and then used the holes as a reference to draw the shape of the blade on the blank.  I also traced the handle again on this surface.  The area in between is the desired shape of the mortise.
Very shallow mortise will become the slot for the saw plate
I used a small router with a straight bit to cut a recess in the mortise area, the depth of the blade's thickness.  Then I glued the two halves of the blank back together, using a couple of 1/4" drill bits in the bolt holes to register the positioning.

After the glue set, but before it was totally dry and hard, I rough-cut the shape of the front of the handle at the band saw, revealing the thin slot mortise.  I ground an old hacksaw blade into a tool to clean out the squeeze-out at the bottom of the mortise, but after that bit of fiddling, the blade fit perfectly and snug.

I re-drew the handle shape of the blank, after using a jack plane to reduce the thickness by 1/8" or so.  After a visit to the bandsaw (1/4" x 4 tpi blade) and drill press (forstner bits), here's what the blank looked like.

The roughed out blank next to the original handle
Not very comfortable, but starting to look like a handle.  I took the blank to the drill press and made the shallow cups for the saw nuts and medallion with 1/2" and 7/8" forstner bits, respectively, and enlarged the holes on one side of the handle to 5/16" to accommodate the female half of the saw nuts.  The drilling was a painstaking effort, since the through holes meant I didn't have a center point to work from.  I just lined up the spinning bits as carefully as I could by eye, after tracing a circle on the surface.  I marked the side of the forstner bit with a thin blue felt pen to give me a consistent depth because the depth stop on my drill press is a piece of crap.  Next I used rasps to get right up to the layout lines, and then traced some contours with a pencil to help me form fair and consistent curves.

Offset layout lines help guide the rasps
  I recently bought this handle-maker's rasp from Tools for Working Wood, and it came in very handy for fine-tuning things and getting the inside of the handle shaped.  After about two hours of rasp work, I had the form to my satisfaction.  Another hour of hand sanding and card scraping got me to a comfortable and not too shabby looking end point.  There are a few flaws if I look closely but it feels good in my hand which I suppose is more important in the long run.  I put on a coat of natural Watco and will probably just add a little wax on top of that.

All done, with a coat of Watco
I used a Dremel with a fine wire wheel on low speed to gently clean up the saw nuts, and they came out pretty good with little effort.
The hardware cleaned up pretty quick with a small wire wheel in a Dremel

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Corporate Joinery Sucks

Just and idea for a t-shirt or something.  The image could be a termite barfing, or maybe those stupid cam connectors that are ubiquitous on particleboard furniture.  I think I prefer the termite.

Have I been in Portland too long?

Restoring a Millers Falls #2 Hand Drill

I got this drill for $38 from ebay, and I'm happy to report that everything seems intact and in good working condition, with the exception of the missing side handle.
Millers Falls #2 Hand Drill from ebay
According to this page at, it dates from ~1929-1931, with the reinforced body, triangle logo, and Millers Falls, Mass labeling on the handle.  I sprayed all the metal down with WD-40, let it sit for several days, and then took it completely apart.  Here are almost all the bits (the bearing races are stuck in the body at this point) along with the few tools I used to take it apart.  Back up the body behind the pins with a block of wood to prevent damaging the frame when you tap them out with a small pin punch.

All the pieces
I'll make a new side handle.  It should look like this, unless I don't make it that shape.  The thread appears to be 5/16-24.

I brushed off all the big chunks of grime with a small brass wire brush, and then used Purple Power degreaser with a Scotch-Brite sponge and a toothbrush to thoroughly clean all the metal parts and de-gloss the remaining paint.  The red paint on the wheel actually dissolved in the cleaner and I could have stripped it completely with a little soaking.  I used the cleaner at nearly full strength, which is pretty aggressive, comparable to lye with some detergent in it.

After that, I used some Testors model paint to re-paint the wheel (gloss dark red 1104TT) and body (semi-gloss black 1139TT) with a small brush.  The smell of that paint sure takes me back to childhood.

Before and after a little red paint
After the paint dried, I put the wheel on my lathe, by pinching it between a flat wood drive block and a conical live center.  I ran the lathe on the slowest speed and hit the outer rim with P400 and P600 sandpaper for a little polishing action.

The wooden top handle on this version is threaded and screws onto a stud that is pinned into the top of the metal frame.  You have to drive out a 3/32 x 15/16 pin from the handle's ferrule, then you can unscrew the handle from the body.  This drill's handle wiggled a bit so I unpinned it and discovered that the wiggling was in the connection between the stud and the frame.   I tapped on the pin holding it in, but it didn't want to come out and I didn't want to beat on it.  I dribbled some blue threadlocker around the joint and wiggled it to work it down into the threads.  After curing for 30 minutes, no more wiggling (after some use, I'll admit there is still some slop, but somewhat less).

The flat-head screw that holds the handle to the main gear was an incorrect replacement.  The female threads in the gear were a little worn, and I couldn't figure out if they were supposed to be 10-24 or 10-32.  I thought about using a tap to chase or re-thread the hole, but it was easier to get a 10-32 x 1/2" flat head brass screw and just gently force it in.  The brass may have got chewed up a bit, but the tight fit will just keep the screw from coming loose.  It's a bit shiny and new right now, but a little age will tarnish that brass to a decent look I think.

I made a new side knob from a piece of madrone.  It's a similar shape to the original, and I like the feel of it in use.  It's intended to be held by one hand, while you hold the top and apply pressure with your body, and crank with the other hand.  I doubt I will ever use this drill this way, since I have the luxury of an electric drill when the going gets tough.  The thing that's nice about these hand drills in a modern shop is the degree of feedback you get when drilling delicately.  At least, that what everyone says.  I think I've got enough hours behind a modern cordless drill that I can feel every bit of the cutting action, and no wiggling hand crank motion to ream out the hole.  I regret using a copper ferrule (a plumbing connector) instead of waiting until I could go to the hobby shop and pick up a piece of appropriate tubing.  The color doesn't go with the top handle ferrule, but oh well.  I can always do it again.

New side handle in madrone
I cleaned up the gunk from the knurling on the chuck by very gently applying it to a fine wire wheel on a bench grinder.  The chuck desperately needs to be taken apart and cleaned, but I don't have a pin tool to open the body.  I'll have to make one one of these days.  For now, I just blew a lot of WD-40 through it and got it working much more smoothly.

Update:  I picked up a Park Tools SPA-1 pin spanner for $10 at my local bike shop the other day while getting some parts.  It worked perfectly to take the back off the chuck, with the body gently-ish held in a wooden hand clamp.  I cleaned out the guts of the chuck and now it works almost as the maker intended.  There is a little scoring on the outside of the jaws such that if the chuck is closed down completely it takes a little nudge to get it to pop back open when the mechanism is loosened.
Ready to Use

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Veritas Plow Plane is Groovy, Man

OMGOMGOMG I just got the Veritas "Small Plow Plane" today and it is awesome.  I know, the entire internet has been telling you this since it came out, but this time it's true.  Five minutes after I got it out of the box I made the most perfect groove ever in the edge of a piece of pine.  Crisp, square edges all around, nice and straight, with an even depth.

Cleaner than a router table
It was quick, and clean, and quiet and all those other great things people are always babbling about hand tools - except this was easy.  I've watched videos of other people using plow planes (Roy!) so I had a clue what I was doing, but unlike sawing, chiseling, or nearly any other thing I might do at the bench, this required no learning curve on my part.  The finesse is apparently cast right into the steel.  Sweet.

Since I'm in Veritas fanboy mode, allow me to continue...  I don't like buying tools without putting my hands on them, even if everyone says they're awesome, because I just don't know if they'll fit me.  Veritas has a big booth at The Woodworking Shows, which are otherwise mostly dominated by big buckets of Chinese-manufactured goods, sadly.  It's too bad they don't do something classy like Lie-Nielsen does with their Hand Tool Events.  Would it be too much to ask for them to travel together?  Now THAT would be a hand tool event, especially if they brought along other independent makers like Blue Spruce and Bad Axe.  Anyway, I went last weekend, and got to try out their Skew Rabbet Plane and several other tools that I've been looking at for a long time.  Guess what's coming in the mail in a week or so!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Budget Moxon Vise

All the cool kids are building "Moxon vises" these days.  Actually, the cool kids built them several years ago, and I'm finally getting around to it.  It's basically a fixture to hold workpieces up a little off the bench, and especially to hold boards up vertically for dovetailing.  I've got quite a few drawers to build in the near future, so it's time.

I don't need to build a big one with $150 worth of (admittedly very sweet) hardware like you can get from Benchcrafted or similar.  I built mine with 2x6 lumber left over from a construction project, and $12 worth of hardware from the local Ace Hardware.  It works great, and unlike other "budget" Moxon vise plans I've seen, I'm not ignoring the cost of the expensive hardwood scraps that people use for the body.  I could have picked up a kiln-dried 2x6x8' stud from the local home center and built this thing for $15 as long as I also used that stud to make the handles.  The handles are long to cover the nuts, but also to cover the end of the bolt threads.  There isn't any metal exposed on the front of this thing to ding your tools or yourself on.

The $15 Moxon Vise

I used a couple of 1/2" x 5" carriage bolts to provide the clamping force, with long coupler nuts inserted into turned wooden handles for leverage.  The only little innovation to this design are some springs over the screws that push the jaws open when you loosen them.  With this setup, clamping depth ranges from 0" to about 1 5/8", and if I need more for some reason, I can just swap out some longer carriage bolts.

I milled the lumber down a bit by machine to make it square and prettier, and then used a hand plane to ease the edges and chamfer the upper front.  I clamped the two vise jaws together and drilled a 5/8" hole in the center a few inches from each end.  Then, I countersunk a 7/8" x 1/2" deep mortise around each hole with a forstner bit, using a scrap of oak to center it over the through hole.  The depth of both mortises together should be just a bit more than the length of your spring when it's fully compressed so that the jaws can close completely.

I glued a 2x4x20" base to the rear jaw, to give me something to clamp the vise down with and make the base wider for stability.  Either hold-downs in dog holes behind the vise or clamps at the front of the bench make for a secure setup.

I turned some 2" square x 3" cherry stock into simple handles at the lathe, drilled a 1/2" hole almost all the way through them, and then chiseled that hole a bit to fit a 1/2" coupling nut.  The length makes for a good friction fit into the wooden handle, with lots of bearing surface so the wood doesn't wobble or strip out.

I wiped on a coat of Watco, which, along with Zinnser shellac products, are my go-to finishes for most shop projects.

Detailed parts list:
1/2 x 5 carriage bolts, 2ea
1/2 flat washers, 2ea
1/2 coupling nut (1-3/4" long), 2ea
3-1/4" x 3/4"dia x 0.050 wire spring.  With firm finger pressure (~5lbs) it compresses fully to 3/4" length.

the hardware I used for my cheap Moxon vise
18 x 5-1/4 x 1-3/8, 2ea jaws
22 x 3-1/8 x 1-3/8, 1ea base
1-3/4 dia x 3 for handles.  If you don't have a lathe, you could use large dowels, or cut the corners off a piece of square stock to make octagonal handles.  The larger the diameter, the more leverage you can apply to the vise, but you don't need a lot.

I just finished using it to make a small dovetailed cedar box, and I've got a modification in mind already.  I typically cut tails first then I want to clamp the pin board in the vise and hold the tail board perpendicularly to mark the waste on the end.  I usually just hold it down by hand, but any small movements can make for some ugly gaps.  So, when my new plow plane comes in the next week or so, I think its first task is going to be to make a groove in the upper part of the rear jaw for a clamping shelf just below the upper edge.  That, combined with a little support device (aka block of scrap) will let me clamp the mating board down securely so I can concentrate on accurate marking.  This is a feature found on many of these devices, but I didn't build it originally because I was trying to keep it as simple as possible.