Jan 21

New toys!

I often get gift vouchers for woodworking shops for the solstice holidays and birthdays and so on, and with Covid this year there’s been no real chance to go pottering round woodworking shops in person so those all built up; over the holidays I finally cashed them in and over the last week or two the delivery guys have been dropping off new toys at the house.

First up, no more burnt fingers when sanding bowls…

I finally found a BS10 Charnwood bowl sander kit after a lot of searching – it seemed everyone in Ireland and the UK and Europe was out of stock of this and none was expected till February, but Raitt’s up in Donegal had one or two left and even though they were technically closed for the holidays, I guess they were having the same kind of holidays I was having and they had it in the post before the new year started (I will definitely be going back there). I’ve had a small play with this since I got it and it’s such a huge step forward. I’m actually looking forward to the next bowl sanding now which seems a bit off 😀

Next up, I’ve been watching Colwin Way’s videos that he was doing for Axminister all last year during lockdown from his home workshop:

They were pretty good tutorials and one of the things he kept using is in that thumbnail – it’s a small platform that mounts in the banjo of the lathe along with a velcro-attached sandpaper disk on a plywood disk which has a metal faceplate ring on the back that his chuck grabs onto, so the lathe becomes a disk sander. It’s not a new idea by any means, but the way he was doing it was very straightforward and one tutorial covered how to build it and I have an Axminister lathe myself and a second faceplate ring for my chuck so the other parts (and they’re not hugely expensive for my lathe, came to about 25 quid in total) went into the order from the Carpentry Store

It’s a nice little bit of functionality to add for doing things like small toys and such on the lathe, as well as for ordinary rectilinear woodworking stuff. Now I just need to find storage space for it 😀

Next, I finally got myself a ring live center for the tailstock. Splitting stock with a 60 degree cone center is hopefully a thing of the past now (and since that caused some mushrooms to explode on me in the beginning, I will not miss it…).

That live center is the multihead one from Axminster so I can remove the ring part and replace it with one of a few others, and I’ve seen some examples on youtube of people turning their own insets for it for things like turning spheres and the like, so it looks to have some potential.

I also got a few carving bits from Saburrtooth for the dremel. I was watching Rebecca DeGroot making some experimental bits and pieces (seriously, you need to see her stuff on instagram, it’s phenomenal) and some of the techniques she was using looked like fun.

I only had a few minutes playing time with these so far, but there’s potential there. I also have had this idea in my head for the last six months for a bowl that I want to make that I’ll need these for (though that technique came more from Stewart Furini than Rebecca DeGroot). But that bowl isn’t even started yet, I’ve only just finished getting some resin into the blank to stabilise two annoying cracks…

I might have chosen the wrong pigments for those but I think I can work with it. If not, I’ll make another smaller one. Or something. I’m still working out how to get the thing I can see in my head onto paper, let alone into wood.

Moving on, one of the things Colwin Way was covering was pen turning and I kindof always thought I’d give that a try, it seems to be mandatory if you have a minilathe, so I got a beginner’s pen turning kit. I expect the first few to be the pen equivalent to a funnel, but hey, it’s all good fun, right? 😀

It’s a rather nice mandrel that one apparently, which is blind luck, it happened to be the one the Carpentry Store stocked that fitted my lathe. Anyway, I’ll give it a go and see how it works out.

There was a bit of restocking as well. I’ve used up all the black, yellow, green and red from my sample pack of Chestnut stains on various holiday decorations and things so I ordered bottles of those to replenish (I figure I’ll keep doing that as I use the little bottles up so that I only have to buy the stuff I’m actually using), as well as some more acrylic sealer because I was out. And I got one of the little timber kits for Calum to build and paint, which should be fun:

There was a light pull drive as well because I want a friction drive to try to get Calum turning little things on the lathe, and I don’t want him using a chuck or a pronged drive center just yet – if he sticks a tool into something with a friction drive center, all that happens is the work stops spinning, rather than there being enough of a connection between spindle and work that it can throw the tool around on him. That hasn’t arrived yet, but should be fun.

And lastly… well, look, I got two nice woodturning tools last year, a Crown PM 10mm bowl gouge and an Ashley Iles 1″ skew chisel. They’re lovely tools but I’ve been afraid to go near them because my sharpening setup was… well, it wasn’t getting it done. I was grinding into the jig itself for one gouge, for another I couldn’t get the jig to clamp it at all, the axis line for the inside and outside curves on the gouges weren’t aligned anymore so I had asymmetric tools, it was a mess.

That last one is an old photo from April – I did change out the carborundum wheels there for aluminium oxide ones a few months back, but the jigs themselves are cheap knockoffs of the wolverine guides and they just were driving me nuts and they were wearing in places and I couldn’t see how to get better performance out of them, so I splurged and bought the BGM-400 kit, took the grinder platform apart and rebuilt it all…

So now I have the Tormek mounting bar, and the gouge sharpening jig, the general purpose sharpening jig that does roughing gouges and parting tools and so on, and the skew chisel sharpening bit. And it’s very very neat indeed. I’m hoping to be able to fix the bad sharpening on all of my gouges, stop shortening the tools quite so fast by keeping a consistent grinding angle rather than constantly having to grind off another bit of steel to correct a bad grind and so on. I know, it’s not a slow speed grinder and it’s not got CBN wheels, but those will have to wait for another day and with a consistent jig setup for sharpening I might be able to start using that lovely Ashley Isles skew soon…

There was one more thing, and I know this is all excessive but it’s birthday gifts and solstice gifts and some savings that would have been spent over five or six months all happening at once before Brexit really bites and we can’t get this stuff or the price doubles in the next few weeks. That’s more likely than not I think – we already are having increased problems getting stuff from the UK or Europe, DPD won’t ship to Ireland at the moment at all because Brexit has mangled both exports from the UK to the EU and shipping from EU to Ireland (we are still in the EU in case anyone was wondering 😀 ) via the land bridge over the UK, which has caused a few things to go astray (and I don’t even want to think about what’s happening to hardwood prices at the moment).

Plus as I said about the bowl sander, a lot of stuff is out of stock everywhere with no really clear restocking date; and we’ve already seen one major woodturning shop in the UK (the Toolpost) close its doors with Covid and Brexit being cited as the cause. Hopefully more don’t follow, but 2020 was not a year that gave us all a lot of cause for optimism, and so far 2021 has started off not getting out of the first week before the US has an actual coup attempt and the news cycle in Ireland has been something of a nightmare as well; we’re now 20% worse than the US for Covid infection rates per capita – literally no other country in the world has had positivity test results this bad or this fast a descent into disaster – and on top of that we just had the Mother and Baby homes report published which simultaneously informed us of nine thousand dead infants in the small percentage of religious institutions investigated and also tried to absolve from blame the religious orders running those institutions and the state that signed contracts with them. Maybe this just isn’t optimism’s best year either.

But I’m one of the very lucky ones in that I can try retail therapy for now instead of the internal screaming. This last present to myself is a real luxury – I bought a set of six cheap airbrushes (the suction variety rather than the gravity fed ones) to put the chestnut stains in. Changing bottles on the one gun was leading to a rather surprising amount of stain winding up on my hands and the bottles and the floor because of capillary action and general clumsiness – I’m hoping this will alleviate it (and there’s a seven-euro-special one as well for gravity feeding so I can try other paints). Now, the airbrushes from aliexpress aren’t exactly what you’d call good compare to a Badger or an Iwata (in fact I don’t think they’re good enough to even dust off an Iwata), but for the kind of thing I’m doing, I think using an Iwata would be an absolute travesty of waste. Those should be used by people who know what they’re doing on very fine work, not the stuff I’m doing, which is the airbrush equivalent of painting houses (badly). They’re cheap, they’re cheerful and they should be here before March and I’m looking forward to playing with them.

Oct 20

New tools

You know how aliexpress isn’t so much shopping as it is buying surprise presents for your future self?
Well, a while back I saw this neat tool being used for layout in a Korean woodworking video:

It was basically a cross between a marking gauge and a vernier calipers and I thought “wow” and looked for one and found it was over a hundred quid and thought “nope”. But aliexpress did knockoff aluminium ones for about twenty quid and I figured why not, so I ordered one.

In January. I mean, covid was in the promed email lists by then but it wasn’t on the radar over here very much and we thought it’d be a bit less of a thing than it became. But anyway, point is, I forgot about it completely and then the other day it turned up out of the blue:

It is very nifty 😀 Looking forward to giving it a workout.

And in one of those synchronicity things, on the same day a new order arrived from Dictum:

I swear, the nicest things come in boxes like this 😀

And I can hollow! It’s the mini version of the crown revolution hollowing tool. I did try undercutting with the tools I have but… well, it’s a bit of a mess. You really do need to be able to bend and heat-treat metal to make a hollower and I don’t have the kit here for that (one day…). So this one is ring tool which is a new one on me, but it has a chipbreaker so it’s kindof a beginner’s ring tool and it’s actually really easy to use:

Negative rake angle (meaning hold up the tool a bit so it’s angled downwards when it meets the wood) and rotate counterclockwise by about 45 degrees according to the youtube instruction videos and away you go. It also comes with another tip (and there are a few more you can buy) which works well for scraping – and you can get right up to under the rim of a bowl with this which I’ve been wanting to do for a while ‘cos it just looks nicer. I had a play with it and it turned out really nice:

The blank is cherry, but with a lovely huge knot in one side which is why it has that lovely pattern in it. It’s on a worm screw there, I reveresed it for hollowing and it came out nicely:

It’s not very big or very thin-walled, I was just playing, but I’m looking forward to doing more of this.

The other book in that order was Campaign Furniture from Lost Art Press – there’s a piece I want to build in that style soon and that’s the best reference I’ve found so far. It’s an interesting style – not as elegant as Shaker, but wonderfully functional and minimalist. That should be a fun build.

And then the next day, a rutlands order landed – they had the same chuck I have now, but with a slightly different name (they called mine the 3″ Xact and the new name is the Precision 75 but they’re the same chuck as far as I can see and the jaws are compatible) as ex-demo stock so it was going for a lot less than half price and I grabbed one – now my cole jaws are on a dedicated chuck which saves time. I must keep an eye out for those if they come up that cheap again, it’s a nice luxury. 75mm/3″ chucks are pretty cheap compared to even 4″ chucks though – I see these youtubers like Stuart Furini open a drawer and casually reach in and pull out a chuck from five or six other six-inch chucks and I wince at the pricetags 😀

I did also get a new forstner bit on clearance from rutlands – the ones I had were from lidl and, well, charitably, lidl’s forstner bits aren’t up to the standard of lidl’s chisels (which btw, are bloody excellent – they’re as good as the aldi chisels and stop laughing because if they’re good enough for Paul Sellers, they’re better than what you or I need….). But forstner bits are a bit more demanding than chisels, and good ones are spectacularly pricey. The ones I had seen recommended as good are by Famag in Germany and sets of those get up to nearly three hundred quid. But here was rutlands selling them by the individual bit for just over twenty quid and for hollowing, I just wanted the one so I got a one-inch one…

…and it’s like night and day. My lidl ones started smoking and burning the wood on their first cut even though I’d taken the diamond paddles to them to hone the edges first, and they were more scraping out wood than anything else. The Famag cut the wood like it was cheddar cheese. It’s seriously impressive the difference between them. You really do get your money’s worth. I used this one to make that little bowl above and it’s also small enough that you can use it for making mortices for small tenons if you’re assembling pieces. Another one I need to keep an eye out for if they come up cheap.

I was hoping to end this one with a new tool I’d made myself but… well, I cut the steel and went to drill and tap the hole for the screw to hold in the carbide tip and the drill bit wouldn’t cut and then shattered and flew everywhere.

Barely even dented it. So two lessons there – firstly, safety glasses (yes, I was wearing mine). Norm was right. And secondly, look closely at the piece of steel you pick up.

I know it’s faint, but that reads HSS not Mild Steel…

Oh well. I’ll grind it into a bedan or something…

Jul 19

DIY intermission

Funny thing about DIY, it gets all the Tim-the-Toolman-Taylor jokes and all the Daddy-Pig jokes, but at the core it’s a repeat of the Arts-and-Crafts movement of the late 1800s and early 1900s which led to things like this:

From the Met Museum : https://www.metmuseum.org/

I mean, it’s not to everyone’s tastes (I don’t like it much personally) but you can’t really argue it’s incompetent or that it’s inferior because it wasn’t just an aesthetic, it was a philosophy – one of using more traditional craftsmanship rather than industrial processes and moving away from the previous mass produced furniture (sorry Henry, but Ford didn’t invent mass production, High Wycombe got there at least six decades earlier and they might not have been the first) which people felt wasn’t as good as human-made furniture (as in, wasn’t as nice to look at, wasn’t built well, and so on). 
If that sounds a bit familiar, well, have a sip of your artisanal coffee and suspend laughing at hipsters for long enough to admit that actually, compared to the burned toast flavoured sludge we used to have for coffee in the 90s and the starbucks of today, coffee made by someone who knows what they’re doing is actually a lot better – and there in a nutshell is the core of the arts and crafts movement (and the DIY movement and the hipsters and probably a few other movements over the centuries since industrialisation). 

Anyway. DIY in this case is a lot less airy and a bit more safety-oriented; the mass-produced MDF kitchen our fridge is in is quite old and after the first decade or so MDF doesn’t really hold up so well it turns out. Or at least old MDF doesn’t, the process may have changed since then so the material is now more robust, but this stuff  is tearing apart and right now there’s a six-foot tall fridge freezer sitting on a shelf where one corner has torn out of its fastening and the whole arrangement has taken on a distinct tilt that I’m not at all in favour of. So an emergency support is getting shoved in until it can be fixed properly.

This is when it’s handy to have some CLS 2x4s around. A bit of planing, some measuring and cutting and a pair of edge joints later…

BTW, you’ll notice one F-clamp has a black and red plastic handle and the other has a purple one – that’s a Rob Cosman trick, it’s hockey stick tape to give more purchase on the handle. Gotta say, it works a treat and I’ll be getting more and doing it to all of the clamp handles. 

Glue will be cured by tomorrow and then I’ll scribe the sides of those uprights against the faces of the feet and then I’ll route out a cavity to set the overall height. Might have to trim or plane the edges of the uprights slightly for that, not sure. We’ll see. 

Really don’t like that tool, but it’s the best fit for this job. Have a new cutter in it as well, the one I intended for the sea in Calum’s desk, a Radian Tools three-flute cutter. Either it’ll be brilliant or it’ll shatter when it hits a knot, but either way I’d rather find out here than on the walnut desk…

Once I’ve routed the cavity to the right depth, I’ll glue and screw the feet to the uprights. Might shape them a little first just so it’s not completely ugly. Then drive them in below the shelf to support it and the fridge until we can get a more permanent fix. 

Also, new toys!

Lidl were selling radio clocks (as in, synced to the german VLF atomic clock transmitter so you never have to adjust the time even if the batteries run out and you don’t replace them for a while) so out with the older larger clock and in with the newer quieter one with the built-in temperature and humidity sensor. Atomic-level accurate clocks with digital thermometers and humidity sensors sold for a tenner as a loss leader to sell you vegetables and own-brand staples. Mass production does have some advantages…

And a new vice. I keep putting off sharpening my saws because they’re a pain to clamp in that small pine stick with the saw kerf that gets clamped into the bench’s face vice, and then when it is clamped properly the teeth are down at bench level and it hurts my back to be bent over the work like that but I need to see what I’m doing to do it and it’s fiddly. So I’ve left the western saws I have on the wall for over a year now and they’re not bad tools and I keep wanting to learn to use them right but I keep coming back to the japanese saws because the western ones aren’t sharp. So, a dedicated saw sharpening vice, found on ebay for €25 including P&P:

It’ll get bolted to a small plank, then the plank goes in the face vice on the bench, so the top of the vice will be much closer to my face and I can see what I’m doing. Fingers crossed it’ll work.

That’s it fully open btw; just enough for a saw plate and then you clamp it shut with a sprung cam. Has a lot more in common with a luthier clamp than it does with a screw vice. 

Not a lot other than that little bit done today. Today was too sunny and it was a weekend so we took the little BBQ on a field trip to Powerscourt waterfall…

Not allowed chop ’em down and make furniture from them though, oh well 😀