Dec 20

Snowman platoon

So along with the Gnomes, I wanted to do a batch job of something for solstice gifts from the lathe, and while I initially thought trees or baubles, it came down to snowmen in the end. So, first off, ordered a few sycamore spindle blanks from the Carpentry Store.

At that time, and at the moment, they’re one of the most economical (ie. I was being cheap) sources, but only for spindles. I mention this because we’re now two days from Brexit kicking in across the water in the UK, and already the costs of importing blanks from my normal source at HomeOfWood.co.uk has jumped (though not as much as it has for his continental customers). It’s a very small complaint compared to what’s coming, but the woodworking hobbists here in Ireland may be facing into having to find either local suppliers or continental ones, so costs may be rising right as we face into the damage done by the covid pandemic to our economies. So, y’know, yay. Kinda glad I stocked up over the last few months.

First order of business was to rough out the blanks.

The normally really fast anglefinder off aliexpress wasn’t quite long enough to get to the center reliably on the 70x70mm blanks, so back to more traditional methods.

Then into the lathe and rough out to round. No neat tricks or features here, just the routine operation. Round with the roughing gouge, turn a tenon on both ends, measure to find the half-way point between shoulders and part it in half there.

I really need to get a ring center, this cone live center is fine and all but it wedges something awful into endgrain like this. I did buy a ring drive center, but I don’t think you can use those in the tailstock without a fair amount of grease and smoke. F.Pain talks about using them in The Practical Woodturner but he’s also talking about lathes made from wood and a few other things that don’t really get done much today because (a) we have better alternatives and (b) the skills are mostly lost.

And that’s them all done (along with the blanks that became test gnomes and test trees and so on). Every spindle blank gave two snowmen blanks (and you’ll note there are some missing, they got turned into a test snowman and a wood witch for a friend who’s recovering from the nasty bug of the year).

First thing to buy after you buy a lathe, is a large dustpan and brush.

Also, I think this is what killed my air compressor. It has since given up the ghost with a loud pop, a hiss as it dumped the full tank of air, and a strong stench of burning oil and rubber. Le sigh.

Next up, story stick. Because I don’t want to make that many snowmen and have them all horribly different and disfigured, that’s a Calvin and Hobbes routine.

I used nails here, driven in at the lines and then filed the heads off with the grinder. That’s a standard approach and I think I’m going to completely ditch the entire thing as a bad idea from now on. Yes, you can mark lines with the nails readily enough, but the lathe does want to grab the whole thing out of your hands if you’re clumsy and storing this would be a PITA. I plan to copy this onto a piece of thick-ish plasticard with lines drawn on it and that’ll store in an envelope more readily. Much much easier for the small shed. And marking off every line with a pencil is just easier than with nails, and that’s what I did with the gnomes.

Okay, so that’s the cutoff at the base marked out with a skew cut, and the head has been taken to thickness with my shed-made parting/beading tool thing.

And that’s the middle snowball thicknessed (the thorax? Absnowmen? What body part categories does a snowman have?). And pencil lines marked in at midpoints by eye. And now came the humility lesson.

I tries this with the skew. Yeah. Nope. At this point (and I’m pretty sure, now too), my skew skills were not up to the task. I mean, this was a month of work ago, and we all know that time dilation is in full effect here in 2020 so this was many years ago now, but still. I eventually had to give up on the skew and do the rest of the blanks with the spindle gouge.

Also, I’m going with BB Turning’s advice here about not getting perfect spheres in a snowman. Yup. That’s exactly what I did. Totally deliberately.

And then on to my woodturning secret, buying 80 grit sandpaper in bulk.

And from 80 grit up to 220 grit and then everything was set aside for finishing (the idea being to batch things, so you do each step and repeat, not follow through on every piece like normal).

That’s as close to a montage as I’m getting (also those other new blanks in the last one there were for trees and there are still a few out in the shed today, mocking my working speed).

At this point, various large work projects as well as the gnomes ate all the shed time and it took a while to get to the next stage. But eventually, the snowmen got back on the lathe for sanding sealer, sanding to 360 and then yorkshire grit and hampshire sheen wax (because it’s toy safe).

Then drilling for a nose was done by hand with a 3.5mm drill bit. And that meant it was time to crank out some noses….

Step jaws (which are really meant for expansion mode inside bowls but they do grip down to a small diameter internally and are more stable than my pen jaws), and a dowel length bought some years ago in Woodies of all places. It’s probably poplar, at least it’s not pine.

And yes, I did redeem myself doing all of this with the skew. And after the first few noses, I actually got the rythym of it, and okay, Steve Jones’ job is safe, but at least I wasn’t quite so dismayed by the results this time.

And yeah, that dowel goes right through the headstock spindle and you just pull out the 70 or 80mm you need to work on at a time.

Mark off the nose length with dividers…

Deepen the mark for the base of the nose with the point of the skew and another mark for where the tenon will end (judged by eye, about 5mm).

Shape with the skew – no, not scraping, but cutting, like a real turner 😀
Don’t look too close at that bevel btw. I’m going to sort out my sharpening jig, honest.

Sand to 120 grit at this stage, and on the other side of the work so I don’t have to move the rest.

That there is a tiny dinky Moore&Wright vernier calipers that only goes to 70mm but is so damn handy to have to hand in the shed. Not giving up my 300mm one but this one is remarkably handy for stuff.

Also, that trick where you cut down to dimension with the caliper itself? Managed that a few times, kinda. Mostly it was just parting tool and guesswork but I got it once or twice.

And then part off at the headstock side of that tenon, using the skew to get as much tenon as possible.

Now pull through the next 80mm (stop the fecking lathe first you daft eejit) and repeat 20 times because you miscounted how many you needed.

Honestly though, I was really happy with those.

Drill a bunch of holes in some scraps and get out the airbrush and….

Two-tone carrot noses 😀

Oh, and also drill a 6mm hole in the top of every snowman’s head for hats, which you can turn in a few different styles (but you’ll have to explain the daft punk headgear to everyone apparently).

Chestnut ebonising lacquer for the hats works well I found.

And now you just have to post them off mid-lockdown. Well, most of them. The one in the Fez is staying with us, and one or two others might as well. We’ll see.

Honestly, I only did 18 of them (including the prototype). I don’t know how BB Turning gets through hundreds every year without going loopy or absolutely mastering the skew.

Overall, I’m happy with them. They came out pretty well, and honestly adding the eyes and arms and things doesn’t give them a lot more. I mean, I did make a few with eyes, but I wonder how long those eyes will remain CA’d in place…

(the original prototype)

Also, I did finally ask Steve Jones about the kit he’s using (yes, I know it’s not the tool, but still) and as a result…

Ashley Iles 1″ flat skew. Not that spendy, about forty euro, but it’s such a more solid tool in the hand. Looking forward to trying it once I sort out the sharpening jig. It’s flat on the faces and round on the edges, so when I get a catch and the work slams it into the rest, it won’t dig out as sharp a gouge as mine does right now.

Tip came dipped in wax to prevent slicing yourself when unpacking it. It’s the small stuff like that that makes the difference with good tools like this – the tang is a bit longer, the fit and finish is that bit better and when you put that all together, it’s just an entirely different class of tool even though there’s no one thing I can point to and say “this is why”.

Really looking forward to using this. And still have some more spindle blanks…

Sep 20

Milliput inlay bowl

Second bowl finished this week (and by that I mean it was hanging around for weeks and I finally got to it) was a nice sycamore bowl. I saw a photo of a nice bowl a while back with irridescent metallic paints in the rim:

I like the angled rim shape there and wanted to replicate it, but I don’t have the irridescent paints so I wanted to go for a simple inlay instead. Resin would be awkward to pour into an inlay on such a rim because of the whole “liquids flow downhill” thing, but milliput might work so I thought I’d try that.

First use of the new centerfinder toy.

Mounted with a faceplate ring which I’m starting to really like over other mounting methods because I can take the blank off the lathe and forget it for three weeks while being lazy and then remount it and it’ll run true.

It’s got some nice grain patterns there, though that really isn’t the profile below the rim that I was aiming for, but well, every day’s a school day.

Quite happy with the rim though. Then I cut out a recess with a parting tool in the rim and filled the recess with milliput, left it cure for a day or three and then recut the rim to get a nice finish, turned the bowl around on the lathe and hollowed it out (and got to use some of the bowl gouges I got as a birthday gift from the parents for this one, especially a new half-inch bowl gouge with a factory grind rather than an Irish grind and that one makes the turn at the bottom of the bowl a lot easier to do). I managed not to take photos of any of this, until I got to sanding…

But I did get some video of the sanding, mainly to show how bloody loud it is when the dust extractor is running three feet behind you…

Straightforward finish – all of the 80 grit sandpaper, then up the grits to 320, then cellulose sanding sealer (thinned to 50% with cellulose thinners) and then yorkshire grit (regular and microfine) and then hampshire sheen wax.

Then I flipped it again, putting the cole jaws on the chuck to hold the bowl rim, turned the recess out to clean up the foot, tidied up the base and branded it, sanded it and just gave it a coat of hampshire sheen wax, then stopped the lathe, took off the facemask and pulled out the isotunes I was wearing as ear defenders, and heard a hissing noise. I thought it was the air compressor at first, but no, it was the MAP gas canister from the blowtorch; after heating the branding iron with the blowtorch and branding the bowl, I’d set the branding iron and the torch head on a scrap of wood outside to cool as normal, and put the tank away in its storage box, but hadn’t noticed it was leaking because of the ear defenders. Reattaching the torch head and removing it more carefully got the valve to reseat correctly, but I’m rather glad I was turning with the door open now.

Still, came out nice.

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.