Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Mud Room Armoire

We need a piece of storage furniture for the mud room / laundry room entry area.  Right now we have a junky old metal shelf, piled with bike gear, swim gear, and other stuff.  There's no place to hang jackets or backpacks, or organize all the gear.

After measuring the space and making some quick Sketchup models, this is where I'm at.
It's a little hard to tell from the perspective, but the front doors are asymmetric.  The left door is narrower by a bit.  I'm leaning toward the version on the right, with two sets of cupboard doors, and adjustable shelves inside.  I envision a hanger rod across on the right side of the upper cupboard, and maybe a stack of adjustable shelving behind the smaller left door.  Overall dimensions are about 36" wide, 69" high, and 20" deep.  I'm having a hard time choosing the wood.  When I drew it I was thinking about walnut for the frames and trim (brown) and alder for the panels (tan).

The next step is to mock it up full size on construction paper.  I'll probably tack together a light frame to hold up the paper and really get a feel for how it will sit in the house.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

...In Which I Start Woodturning

As my reward for ten weeks of toil on the (soon to be) baby's room, I ordered myself a Delta 46-460 Midi Lathe last week.  It came in a few days ago, I picked it up yesterday, hauled it down to the basement last night, and gave it a test drive.  The last time I touched a lathe was in about 1985, and I don't think I did anything constructive with it.  I intend to use it for tool handles, cabinet pull knobs, and stuff like that.  I really didn't want to spend as much as I did, I just wanted a little tiny lathe, but the small ones are all fairly crappy products, made in China, and I couldn't do it.

I did a lot of research and still spent quite a while staring at the tools at Woodcraft trying to decide what I needed to get started.  I settled on an Easy Wood Tools carbide-tipped rougher (the mid-size Ci-2), which was expensive but looks like it has an extremely short learning curve, and should last a long time.  I also picked up a Sorby 1/8" parting tool and a Sorby 3/8" spindle gouge - without a handle.  The gouge was a lot cheaper without the handle, and I figure that will give me something to do right off the bat.

So I made a 7" x 1" blank from a piece of old fir framing scrap.  I started with the lathe on it's very slowest setting (like for a 12" log) and took a few hesitant chips with the parting tool.  That didn't really work well on the square corners, so I got out the carbide rougher and started making a mess.  I attached the dust collector hose to the tool rest post to keep things clean, and slowly turned up the speed as I gained confidence.  I managed to make a passable handle for the spindle gouge, using calipers and the parting tool to make a tight fit for a ferrule (a threaded piece of 1/2" brass pipe) and I even got out a 1" bench chisel and used it bevel down and at an angle to give a shearing cut like a skew, which definitely cut very smoothly.

Fir Handle for 3/8" Gouge
I still need to remove the threads from the brass ferrule and glue in the cutter with some epoxy.  Not terrible for a very first effort, I guess.  Now I just need to make about 500 more handles and other parts to justify the cost of the tools!

Update:  A few days later, and I've made several items.  A couple of oak file handles, a much nicer beech handle for the 3/8" spindle gouge, and a handle and knob for a bowsaw that I made.  The Easy Wood Tools rougher is quite capable, and I'm glad I bought it, as a total beginner.
I tried to replicate the Sorby handle shape as an exercise, but I need some calipers.  My very first sad attempt is at the bottom.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Make a Bowsaw

I have a bandsaw.  It typically has a 3/4" x 3 tpi resawing blade in it, which is great for making big boards into little boards in a hurry, but not so much for cutting curves.  Changing the blade is a ten minute hassle, and for cutting certain items like curved legs or bracket feet that's what I do.  But for quick jobs, working on pieces that are too big to take to the bandsaw, or starting in a hole in the middle of a workpiece, an olde timey bowsaw (aka turning saw) is a great tool.

It's basically a big coping saw, using similar narrow blades, but much longer, typically 12".  The frame is fairly easy to make from wood, and you can either make your own metal hardware to hold the blades, or buy a set from Tools for Working Wood, who also sell the blades.  Bill Anderson is selling a slightly different style of brass pins on his website, too.

Realistically, you can take three sticks and some mason line, drill a few holes, whittle a couple of notches with a knife, insert some hardware, and have a functional saw.  You could even take the hardware from a cheap coping saw or make your own from nuts and bolts and make the whole thing really lowbrow.  The saw will be much nicer to use, however, if it's shaped carefully to be lightweight while maintaining strength, and comfortable to hold.  Plus it's a lot more fun to use beautiful tools, and that goes double when you made it yourself.

There's an episode of the Woodwright's Shop where Roy Underhill and Bill Anderson examine an antique and go through the steps of reproducing it.  See that excellent video here.  Popular Woodworking did a closely related article with a plan (by Bill Anderson ) in the Nov 2011 issue, and another bowsaw article in Oct 2010.  Both of those PWW links have some nice accessory videos and stuff.  There's a plan from the 1920's on the "Galootish Gleanings" section of The Cornish Workshop. Tools for Working Wood also has a plan you can print and a page of tips, and Shannon Rogers does a video of his TWW build on his Renaissance Woodworker blog here.  Finally, here's another blog entry by Steve Branam.

So there you go.  If you visit all those resources, there isn't much I can add, because I don't have any first hand knowledge.  I got the Gramercy pins from TWW last week, I'll find some appropriate wood next week, and build my own here soon.

Update:  I sliced up some scraps of beech molding on the bandsaw, and made a bowsaw from the straightest-grain sections.  I followed TWW's general form and some dimensions, but drew the parts freehand and didn't try to copy their plan slavishly.  I reduced the frame components to 9/16" thick before shaping, aiming for a lightweight version.  We'll see how it holds up under tension...  I also turned a longer handle to fit my hand, with a groove for my thumb near the front.  I used 3/32" braided polyester cord for the tensioning mechanism, which doesn't stretch like nylon.  I don't know if that matters.  I have found that the pins turn a little too easily in their holes, and the saw tends to twist as I use it unless I hold the arm of the saw moreso than the handle.  I've found that I either need to wrap my right index finger around the frame, or use both hands, with my left hand on top of my right hand, gripping the frame.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Simple Plan for Mason Bee Houses

Mason bees are nice little native pollinators that are easy to attract and support in your yard.  Like most bees, they're solitary, meaning they don't have a hive with queens and workers and all that, and they don't sting because the don't have a hive to defend.  They gather pollen to lay eggs on, to feed the next generation, but they aren't very efficient at it, which means they have to visit lots of flowers, which makes them excellent pollinators.  One species, Osmia lignaria, comes out fairly early in the spring, does it's thing, and then disappears for nine months until the next spring.  Because of their timing, they're excellent pollinators for many fruit trees, like apples, pears, and cherries, that are flowering when the bees are flying.  Thus their common name of Orchard Mason Bee, and the reason they're a favorite commercial supplement for European Honey Bees.

Where they disappear to is no mystery.  The adults pack pollen into beetle holes in wood or hollow twigs or other natural cavities, lay eggs on the pollen stores, seal the holes with mud and then die.  The eggs hatch and the bees complete most of their life cycle inside, only coming out for the mating, pollen-gathering, and egg-laying phase in the spring.  This is where this plan comes in.

It's easy to provide a home for these little guys, either for the fun of watching them do their thing, or because you have fruit trees, or because you want to help the little critters of nature out of the goodness of your little hippie heart.  Basically, you take a piece of wood and drill a bunch of holes in it.  They like holes in the 1/4" to 3/8" range, with 5/16" being published as optimal.  Commercial houses pack hundreds of paper straws into small holders, but this kind of density invites pests and diseases, and pretty much requires "harvesting" the bees in the fall instead of just letting the bees take care of themselves.  Put twenty holes in a block of wood and call it good.  If you want more, build a few more houses and put them in different parts of your yard.

Here's the first house I built, several years ago.  It's a couple of old Douglas Fir 2x4's from my house, drilled and then glued together.  The holes are about 3" deep, and 1/4" in diameter.  I cut the top off at an angle and glued on a piece of cedar fencing material to keep the rain off the top, and it hangs on the east-facing side of my shed.  I drilled a shallow hole in the back, angled up, which hangs nicely on a 10d finish nail hammered in at an angle.

simple mason bee nesting house

Fast forward a few years, and this house has been used and re-used by several generations.  It's now early March, and I expect this year's bees to dig out of their nest holes and start flying around any day now.  What I'd like to do is hang up a new house, and have them use it so I can clean this one out and get rid of all the junk that's plugging up some of the holes.  The problem is, if I leave it up, the bees will build nests in it again.  The solution is to cover the house with a box that hides the holes.  There's an exit at the bottom for emerging bees to escape, but they won't come back and use it as a nesting area.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Working with Foam Insulation Board

If you don't have much room to work with, and need the best insulation possible, I don't think you can do better than foil-backed foam insulation.  It's rated at R-6.5 per inch, so a 2" thick board is R-13.  Furthermore, the foil coating gives you a low-E surface that retards radiant heat transmission across air gaps, and the stuff is an excellent vapor and air barrier when sealed in with canned foam.  The only downsides I can think of are price (currently about twice the cost of fiberglass batts) and fire issues.  It doesn't quite burn on it's own, but I'm sure it burns fine in a wood-framed structure fire, and it gives off some nasty fumes in the process.

Our upstairs ceilings are only framed with 2x4 rafters, so after leaving a gap for ventilation under the sheathing, I've got to do what I can in about 3" of space.  I fit sheets of 2" foam insulation board into each bay, fitting it to the slopes and outlines of the framing, and leaving about 1/2" gap all around.  The stuff can be cut fairly easily with a big serrated kitchen knife, but you have to be careful to keep the cut from wandering.
Cut all the angles for a reasonably tight fit
I hold them in place temporarily with some little wood battens screwed to the framing, and then spray expanding foam all around to seal the cavity totally air tight.
2" foam panels installed in the ceiling
Wood battens hold sheeting while foam cures
Then I to go around and trim off any foam that expanded past the face of the framing, which is pretty easy with a thin knife.

Trim off the excess with a long flexible knife

Be careful not to overfill with expanding foam - see how it pushed the electrical box down.
I had to carve out the excess and re-seal this one.
I then ripped a bunch of 1" furring strips, and screwed those on perpendicular to the framing at 16" o.c.  This way I don't have to use thicker than 1/2" drywall to span the 24" ceiling joists, and I can add another layer of 1" foam board across the framing, increasing the overall insulation value.  Running the second layer perpendicular to the first also increases the overall insulation factor of the roof structure by covering the 2x4 framing (which is only about R-3) with a layer of R-6.5 foam, preventing thermal bridging from the framing to the interior.

Perpendicular furring strips allow foam insulation to cover framing

In the end I've got a 4-1/2" thin ceiling / roof assembly that is well ventilated under the roof deck, but still about R-20 and totally sealed against air leakage.  Loose insulation materials like fiberglass and cellulose might rate well in an otherwise sealed cavity, but if there's infiltration into the stud bay or of course in a vented attic, I think foam has some serious advantages that aren't apparent when all you look at is the R-numbers.

Tips:  Definitely always wear some kind of eye protection, thin nitrile gloves, and a hat when spraying canned foam.  It occasionally pops and you don't want this stuff in your eye.  It also is a real pain to get off your hands, and I guarantee you'll get it in your hair if you're working on a ceiling.