Jul 20

Ten Years

So ten years ago today…

Claire and me just after getting married!

The traditional gift guide says ten years is… tin. Hm. Really? Was tin some seriously sought-after material at some point in the last few centuries? Weird. But okay, tradition is tradition…

We can at least make a nice box though. I have some walnut and I still have some of that lovely rippled sycamore Custard gave me when I was searching for thick veneers…

Simple design from a joinery point of view, so just mill the components and cut to size to match the tin…

Grooves in the base of the front and back panels and in the sides will hold the base, which is 3mm boxwood (lovely material, it’s a shame it’s so hard to find).

It’s almost a single-use plane but it’s the best tool for this task really. The depth of the groove and the distance from the bottom of the panels is set using the boxwood base directly.

Then just groove away.

For the sides, because you don’t want to run off the ends with the groove, a different approach is needed; and at this point I discovered the narrowest of my usual chisels was 5mm wide and the groove is 3mm. A 1mm gap on either side would be a bit unsightly, so I was about to get out the grinder wheel and convert one of the older chisels to life as a narrower chisel when I checked the less-used ones and bingo…

3mm almost on the nose (actually a tad under). Hilariously, this wasn’t some engraving tool or fine work chisel, this is a morticing pigsticker designed to go through several inches of oak…

This gave me a giggle or two, but then on with chopping out the mortices for the base in the sides.

Tappy-tap-tap, as they say. Very shallow mortice, only one pass with light taps required, then a bit of scraping with the tip of the chisel to clean up and then check for fit.

The cross-grain mortices are less straightforward because they’re cross-grain and very narrow. You can’t really chop along the mortice for these. I tried cutting them like a housing dado but that wasn’t really getting it done, so I resorted in the end to knifing in the edges of the mortice rather deeply, chopping a little with the morticing chisel to a mm or so down to define the mortice, then drilling out the rest and cleaning up with the bevel-edged chisel.

Worked pretty well.

Then just repeat on the other side.

There’s a fair bit of fettling with all this as well but it got there in the end. I also drilled holes in the back panel and lid for the barrel hinges (butt hinges on this scale are something I still can’t get right). Then it’s time to knock it all back apart and sand the panels and the inside of the sides and the base and prefinish the insides because it’d be much harder later on, and then I gave everything a coat or two of poppyseed oil (it’s very light so it doesn’t darken the sycamore much).

And then glue-up. Just titebond here, no need for the hide glue and it was cold so it wouldn’t flow well without faffing about with hot water.

Along the way to here, the lid changed from rippled sycamore to more walnut because of a realisation about the size of the box and the lid (ie. that the lid was too narrow to cover from front to back unless it was sitting inside the box and I didn’t have the hinges for that). But the walnut had a knot so it was resin time again (I mean, it’s me, of course it’s resin time).

And that came out nicely after scraping and sanding down the lid. It’s a little beauty spot. But the box is a bit… chunky at this point. Not to worry, that’s part of the plan. And now I get to try to be delicate with industrial tools…

Angle grinder and a flap disk in 40 grit and one in 120 grit. It’s like using a power router only without the convenient handholds or the reference surfaces or the safety features. Exciting times

Worked though. And now a lot of handsanding with every grit from 80 to 240. The cloth-backed sandpaper from the lathe was very useful here especially with the parts in the carved grooves.

Okay, now for finishing. First off, wipe off all the sanding dust with a dry rag, then with kitchen paper soaked in isopropanol. Then two coats of poppy seed oil.

Makes a difference!

Next up, a new lathe toy, the burnishing wheel. It’s not a fancy one, it’s just the chestnut products basic one. Works well. I will say that I didn’t expect it to be quite so grabby though, and it did bounce my hand off the chuck which wasn’t fun. Be careful out there folks…

And yes, I mixed carnuba and beeswax at the final stage. Also, I was unprepared for the sheer amount of cotton fibres this thing throws everywhere. It looks like the spiders were working overtime in the shed.

Worth it though.

And after that, two coats of blonde shellac with another buff on the final wheel after each coat, and finishing was done. Final job was to epoxy in the barrel hinges (finishing was easier with the lid separate) which was a tad fiddly because of course it was, hinges are my nemesis. But it worked…

The resin dot glows in the dark!

Also, yes, that’s a tin of spam.

And also, no, I’m not that bad.

Tin is the traditional gift, but tradition can go jump in a lake.

Jul 20

Sharpening station

So ages ago I made one of Paul Sellers’ kind of sharpening stations – effectively just a plank with carved recesses for diamond plates (in a small shed, the diamond plates work best for me because they’re less muss and fuss than everything else would be in that space). It wasn’t exactly a masterpiece or anything (though I still think waney edge plywood will come into fashion), but it worked quite well for years.

It has gotten slightly grubbier with use (that’s the steel dust and the lapping fluids and so forth) and I added a handle because I started keeping it under the bench and the handle made extraction easier. But you still have to pull it out from under the bench and have room free on the bench to put it on before you can sharpen and that’s… uncommon in the shed. I mean, if you have a 12′ bench, I’m sure there’s always some room but my bench is about 5′ long and I only recently got to see the top of it again after a major effort in tidying for the first time in six months so that space is just not a thing in my reality.

So, a few months ago when I moved the tumble drier out of the shed (no, not kidding, don’t ask) and reclaimed some space, I decided some of that space was going to be used for a dedicated sharpening station. Maybe not a full-blown Shannon Rogers affair with two grinders and a tormek and plates and drawers and so on, but something at least that I could use for most of my sharpening. So I had a good rummage around online and found these:

So, one cheap order and a bit of waiting and an offcut and some fiddly installation later and just as the lathe was making its first chips, I had a folding shelf.

…and then I did nothing for several months. I mean, okay, there was the whole pandemic thing but mostly I just got buried doing other things. But in the last day or two I got a bit into doing shed jobs. I rebuilt the lathe tooling shelf because it went from reasonably tidy:

To a complete and utter pile of disaster waiting to happen:

Yeah, I might have bought one or two things without planning where to store them. So I pulled that shelf off the wall and disassembled it (and if you ever wondered how strong titebond II was, well, this is what happened when I hit the shelf with a lump hammer to break the glue line holding the shelf from the piece that’s actually screwed to the wall):

Anyway, took a scrap of pine left over from something else, and did some mucking about with the pillar drill and the router:

Put a small routed channel in at the back for the centerfinders to be propped up in against the wall, and end caps from plywood scraps that might stop them falling off the ends, and a small routed rectangle on the left for other stuff like a diamond hone, a spindle centerfinder that’s a bit awkwardly shaped and a few worm screw spacers on a little tower-of-hanoi holder thing.

I know it doesn’t look like it, but that is an improvement. Even if things are now looking busier than I’d like…

But anyway, today’s project was to finish the sharpening station so I pulled two of the four stones from the existing sharpening plate holder (the coarsest and finest ones):

That glue wasn’t messing about, it held onto the writing 😀

I won’t be losing the strop btw, I’ve found stropping to be very much worthwhile but I usually use a dedicated one that I leave lying around the bench which is just a length of 2×4 with some leather nailed to it that I made back when I was making the bench years ago.

Next I trimmed the edges of the poplar offcut I’m using here, planed it, and marked it out for the plates.

And I routed out the bulk of the waste with the power router. Have I mentioned I hate that thing? It’s loud, it’s scary and holy crap the mess.

But it was a bit easier than chopping the plate recesses out with a chisel. I prefer to cut mortices with chisels, but for large wide areas of excavation, it’s hard to beat a power router. It’s awkward to be precise with them though, so I routed to within 2mm or so of the lines and then did the rest with a chisel or two and a mallet and some patient thwacking. A touch of epoxy to glue the plates in place and some remounting with predrilled screw holes and…

(The paracord is for hanging the window cleaner bottle I use for lapping fluid from)

And now I can touch up a chisel from not-sharp-but-not-yet-dull to yikes-thats-sharp and be back to work in 30 seconds. Literally, I tried it (and it’s easier when you’re not holding the cameraphone in one hand):

Next job, the dust extractor cyclone has torn out of the lid of the drum it’s on so that has to get reinforced with plywood temporarily until I can build a 4″ cyclone lid (the flat kind like this) to replace it, and I have to make some holders for sandpaper (for which I might have to rebuild the printer head on the 3D printer which is acting up at the moment) and for the kitchen rolls I use in there for finishing on the lathe, and the wire-burning bits and bobs need to be rethought a bit because they’re literally a box of wires and two handles with holes in them right now which is just a messy pain in the backside, and the saw vice needs a proper home to hang on as well (probably on the wall behind the lathe low down like the little record imp machinists vice), and then I can get on with actually making stuff

Jul 20

The great Shed Tidy-Up 2020

It happens to us all, or so I’m telling myself – you start one project, it gets interrupted by another two which are a little more urgent, you’re playing with something on the side on the lathe because that doesn’t interfere with the bench, and suddenly you’re ankle-deep in shavings and can’t see the bench because it’s covered by six boxes and you can’t reach the tools anymore.

Thought I was exaggerating, didn’t you? So. Where to start. Well, hoovering up and putting things like the grinder back on the wall was the obvious bit, but I was still left with a literal shed-load of clutter on the bench. I tried organising stuff into boxes so that projects-in-motion like the new lathe tooling and such were at least corralled, but it became obvious that, well, this just isn’t very good as workspaces go. Take the tools under the bench for example. They’re in those plastic boxes to the far left (the cardboard box in front of them is a burn box for offcuts and the like). To get at those tools, you have to pull out the relevant box (and they’re plastic and a few years old and cracking), and it’s never the first box no matter how you stack them, and they’re heavy so you have to get right down on the floor for leverage and once you have the tool you need, the boxes all have to go back so that you can then use that tool and when done, you have to put it all back into the boxes again and it’s been a pain for a long long time now.

So, I started thinking drawers. I mean, shaker workbenches are basically a set of drawers with a worktop on them, so why not. Make a bunch of plywood boxes, put them on drawer runners because fitting six drawers will take a while, and just fit them into that space and maybe move the thicknesser over to the right so we have a single contiguous space to fit drawers into… and here’s the rub. Plywood’s not cheap (and getting to a timber yard at the time was akin to buying drugs). Drawer runners for this sort of weight (because those boxes are all handplanes and rasps and basically lots of solid metal) are not cheap. And all this would take time. Which I mean, I don’t have a boss here, this is a hobby, but feck it, there are things I wanted to do. And then I started looking at the background in one of John McGrath‘s youtube videos…

Hm. Ready-made drawers you say. Hmmmmmm. ‘Course, it turns out that working in a small shed complicates things. In a larger shed, you’d buy those exact ones from halfords and they’d be reasonably cheap (by which I mean you couldn’t build them from ply and drawer slides for the same money). But when you have a very specific space that they can go in and a large amount of stuff to get into that space, your choices narrow a bit and almost inevitably not to the cheapest option. Even so, the one I finally found after a month of searching worked out cheaper than building my own (just) and it introduced me to a new source for bits’n’bobs that I’d never heard of before called TED.

How in the hell I never heard of anyone with a catalog like this I don’t know, especially when they’re a 15 minute drive from my house, but anyway, a quick phone call and four days later and they had a large box for me…

Ever have the worrying sense that you’ve measured wrong and the thing you’ve just bought for a not insubstantial amount of money is a centimeter too wide?


Less than a centimeter to spare (actually less than 5mm…)

But, now all my tools are *available to use*. It’s a monumental luxury…

And there’s one or two boxed sets of things like a socket driver set in the top part of the case. It’s not as easy-access as the drawers, but you can get them out a damn sight easier than you could with the boxes. There isn’t quite as much space – some stuff didn’t make it to the drawers but most was rubbish that went in the bin and I’ve no idea why I was hoarding it, but one of those plastic boxes did get half-filled with stuff I’ve never used but can’t bear to dump and it’ll go live in the attic, photographed so I can double-check what was in there instead of climbing into the attic and rummaging through it.

But with that done, I still had crap on my bench. In fact, more because I had managed to leave my tub-o-finishing-stuff without a home. So. No other option. The sarlacc pit needs to be organised.

So I had a few 2×4 lengths left over from putting shelves in the timber storage box, so I crosscut them with Calum’s help, then ripped them in half for the corner posts and into four 3/4 inch laths for the rest and then glue-and-brad-nailed together a very quick-n-dirty wheeled shelf cart thingy.

And then all I had to do was remove the lathe, pile six tons of crud on top of the stuff on top of my bench, rip out everything that was in the sarlacc pit and hoover up all the shavings and stuff and move the hand drill holder two feet to the right and the air hose as well, and added two more magnetic bars (one to let me move the saws around a bit for space and one to improve the lathe tool holder so it has two parallel magnet bars, not just one – it’s more stable now). With that done, I could clamber back into the space and immediately lock myself into the shed behind a mountain of even more crud while I got the cart into position.

Understand, at this point I’m somewhere between ninty minutes and two hours of work in (it shouldn’t take this long but the tight quarters and lack of elbow room always delay everything and stuff just slows to a frustrating crawl). A few minutes more of wrestling the cart over my head while holding my breath and pirouetting elegantly on my left toe and…

Oh for *#$@s sake.


Gah. I think that’s the most anger I’ve used a prybar, lump hammer and ryoba in. Pretty sure I taught someone a new word as well. But…

I actually had to remove 5mm off the bottom of that part of the bench apron. At least I didn’t have to re-brand the bench. Small mercies.

There’s a good 2mm of clearance all round now. Yeesh. It’s on castors btw, so you can just pull it straight out from there for access (I’ve done that since, it’s dead easy… once you’ve wrestled the lathe out of the way…).

Yet more “it just fits”. Now, I just need to pull the lathe back in and finish tidying up and cleaning down….

It. Never. Ends. But, finally, after another half-hour of work…

Yes, there is still some sandpaper and colouring stuff on the far right, I have some holders to build yet. And yes, there is still two boxes of stuff I’ve lined up for turning projects on the far left; but I’ll work through those and I can put them under the lathe if needs be. But I CAN SEE MY BENCHTOP. And I managed to clean it and give it another quick coat of BLO. And everything is finally tidy again. No, really…

There’s even floor space to stand in! It’s fantastic! I even got the saw sharpening vice finally mounted (that’s me testing it there with that western style vintage dovetail saw that I keep wanting to sharpen properly). I do need to find that a home on the wall behind the lathe alongside the Record Imp metalworking vice. So not yet completely finished, but only small jobs that are already in the queue anyway and then it’ll be completely clean and

for *#$s sakes IT NEVER ENDS