Friday, July 14, 2017

"7 Minutes in Maintenance Heaven"

(This post was sponsored by 3-IN-ONE-Oil, although the content, ideas, and presentation is all mine)

Did you ever play "7 minutes in Heaven" when you were a teenager?  Yeah, me neither.  But I am here to propose an updated version of that classic game that may be of interest to workshop afficianados like myself.  Intrigued?  Of course you are. Just keep reading.

Now, before your mind starts reeling and your imagination goes into some kind of hormonally supercharged overdrive, let me reassure you that this game is totally G-rated.  I can guaranteed that  is not glamorous or sexy in any way whatsoever. BUT... it is the kind of thing that we all know we could probably stand to do a little more of, because it really does make a noticeable difference in the performance of our tools, and it extends their life, too.  I am talking, of course, about maintenance.

You may be shaking your head right about now.  I know, this may seem kind of a let-down compared to the adolescent version of the game, but stay with me.  You're more mature now, right?

First, some background.  In my twenty years in woodworking, I've proven to myself time and again that there is no way that I am going to thoroughly and regularly tackle every single bit of maintenance in the shop according to a pre-established schedule that will ensure perfect performance from everything all the time.  There's just too much to do!  So, I try to prioritize the most important things, and stay ahead as best I can.  And that's how I developed the strategy that I'm writing about here.  Every few months, I grab a bottle of 3-IN-ONE oil and spend a few minutes running around the shop cleaning and lubricating everything that I can see or think of.  It is comprehensive?  No, I'm probably missing something.  But am I a LOT better off than before?  Definitely.  I can see and feel the difference immediately.  To keep it fun, I came up with the silly name "7 Minutes in Maintenance Heaven".

The remainder of this article will illustrate the kinds of things that I tend to tackle during these sprees.  And once you start looking around your shop, I'm sure you'll see all kinds of things that could use a little love, too.

Jointer adjustment mechanisms?  Done and done.

These drawers had been sticking for ages and were driving me crazy.  No more!

Anything that slides is fair game, like the bandsaw fence, for example.

Bearings of all kinds are fair game, including the ones on these router bits.

I'd love to save this old clamp, so I hit it with some 3-IN-ONE to start the clean up process.

Nailers need special oils that are formulated not to damage their O-rings.  You can thank me later.

The bolt on this multi-tool was frozen up.  Not for long, though.

Even basic hand tools benefit from a few drops of oil. 

My beloved Swiss Army knife was out on the bench, so it got the treatment, too.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Planer Maintenance 101

(This post was sponsored by 3-IN-ONE-Oil, although the content, ideas, and presentation is all mine)

My trusty planer had been starting to act up: boards weren't feeding quite as easily as I expected, and the finished surfaces weren't as clean as I was used to.  And the crank that controls the height adjustment seemed a little gummed-up, too.  Sigh.  It was clear that I was going to have to spend some time on maintenance, despite the fact that it runs counter to my basic wiring.  See, my strengths lie in having a great imagination and enthusiastically dreaming up new project ideas.  I am historically a great Starter of Projects, and I have even learned to discipline myself into seeing things through and finishing them on the right note, too.  The lure of getting a paycheck at the end definitely helps with that.  But setting aside time for the decidedly unglamorous business of maintaining my tools?  No, I would never organically gravitate toward that.

         I'm guessing that many if not most people can relate to some degree, although I've met a few exceptions in my day.  Like my old buddy David Grace, in Madison, Wisconsin, for example.  That guy was born to set up tools.  During the four years that I occasionally visited his shop, I never saw him make one thing.  I guess he just liked to work on stuff in a different capacity.  For example, he was always tearing a machine apart to recalibrate something, or restoring a vintage handplane.  The prospect of a bad bearing in a jointer was to him a siren song that meant he could gleefully roll up his sleeves, break out his machinist's tools, and eventually get things humming like new again.  Or ideally, better than new.  David firmly believed that the factory setup on most tools was at best a suggestion, a flawed and untrustworthy starting point where those with real vision (and lots of free time) could really shine and take performance to a level that is unfathomable to us mere mortals.  You think your table saw's top is smooth?  Ha, give Dave a few days with a full range of abrasive powders, buffers, paste wax, some eye of newt.... well, he'd get that cast iron slicker than Teflon, and he'd be grinning ear-to-ear the whole time. 

         Not surprisingly, his chisels sure were freakishly sharp.  Frankly, he helped me to redefine just what I thought "sharp" was, although this was a bit of a mixed blessing.  It is like being shown the Promised Land but then never being able to actually set foot in it yourself.  He was a devotee of Japanese waterstones, which I admired in theory but quickly eschewed as too slow and too finicky for me.  I coveted his results, but I was not in search of yet another skill to have to master.  See, I looked at sharpening as an onerous distraction to be avoided for as long as possible, or better yet, farmed out to someone else if I could.  But Dave loved it.  He could lecture for hours on secondary bevels, and he loved to nerd out about the metallurgy of various tool steels.  I mean, the man even resharpened his own tablesaw blades- and he liked it!    

         But lest you think he is a total bad seed, he did introduce me to card scrapers, which are a nice weapon in my woodworking arsenal, and their maintenance requirements are minimal enough even for me.  Anyway, I'm being a bit rough on old Dave here, but it is partially because I am jealous.  And besides, I don't think he can help it- he was just born this way.  Part of me wishes that I had some of that meticulous drive to agonize over optimal tool setup for peak performance.  Sigh.  Anyway, even though we fall at different points on the maintenance continuum, we both recognize that tools and machines do need some TLC now and then if they're going to be at their best, and that it's always worth it when you take the time to clean, sharpen, and lubricate them as needed.  This blog post will detail the process that I recently undertook to get my planer working like new again.  It was twenty minutes very well spent.  I'd like to think that, knowing my lackadaisical ways, David would probably be proud of me.  

Attention wood chips and sawdust: I don't care where you go,
but you can't stay here.

My planer- the DW735 by Dewalt- includes a Torx wrench that
I used to loosen four bolts on the machine's cover.
The cover lifts right off and provides a look into the belly of
the beast.  A very dirty beast, in this case.

Again, the vacuum comes to the rescue.

The height adjustments of this model are accomplished with
the help of what most of us would recognize as a bicycle chain.
Mine was filthy.  I used 3-IN-ONE Dry Lube to get it moving
more smoothly. As it goes on dry, it is less of a sawdust magnet.

Three long, red bolts hold down the cover for the dust extractor.
I removed them.

This gave me access to the cutterhead and the the three knives
that are at the heart of the machine.  Shop vac time once again.

The Torx wrench also has magnets set into it to
make the knife changes trouble-free; your fingers
won't go need to go near the sharp blades.

Here's another look at the height adjustment
mechanisms: most of the weight of the planer
travels up and down these four threaded rods.
Were mine dirty and in need of some TLC?  Yes.

This is how clean they looked afterward!  And the
machine performed, as I mentioned earlier, just
as good as it did on the day I bought it.

For more product information, check out 3-IN-ONE-Oil

You can find it at Lowes, the Home Depot, Ace Hardware, and
many other stores

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

A Chisel Rack You Can Build in about 20 Minutes

My quest for better shop organization never ends.  While I don't exactly get paid for it- and it actually ends up distracting me from getting work done sometimes- I'm convinced that it's a net gain.  Working in a shop that is clean and organized and a pleasure to be in has to be good for productivity, right?  After rearranging some of the big elements in my shop the other day (i.e. machines and shelving units) I found that I needed to tackle some small-scale issues, too.  And that led me to building this wall-mounted chisel rack.  It'll keep chisels from getting damaged and banged around (this was a problem when they were formerly housed in a drawer), and they'll always be right within arm's reach when I need them.  It's a quick and satisfying project that I highly recommend.

I used my tablesaw and chop saw to cut out the parts.  There are two strips that measure
20" x 1" x 5/8", and two blocks that are 2" x 1" x  1".  Vary the dimensions as you like.

I glued the blocks to the strips using cyanocrylate (superglue) because
it is strong and fast-drying.  Yellow glue would work, too.The blocks
need to be set in 1.5" from the ends.

The spacing matters because I planned on driving screws
through the blocks into my wall studs, which are at 16" centers.

A pair of clamps held the "sandwich" together during the
 15 minutes it took to dry.

Once the glue was dry, I pre-drilled holes for the screws.

A stud-finder made it easy to position the rack.

And here it is, attached to the wall with a pair of 4" screws.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A Food Safe Finish for Cutting Boards, Wooden Spoons, and more

     After putting in the time and effort to make a cutting board, wooden spoon, or other kitchen-related item, you need to tackle the question of finishing.  In other words, what’s the best finish to both protect your hard work and bring out its natural beauty?  In an ideal world, the finish would last forever and never require re-coating, so it might be tempting to reach for the polyurethane or lacquer. But, while this approach offers the siren song of easy (or no) maintenance, it comes with a price- these finishes are bound to be pretty toxic when ingested. Inevitably they'd end up flaking off over time and ending up in your food.  Not good.  If you're item will only used for display, this is a fine choice, but not if someone will end up using it.

     So this leads us to the best option for this context: an non-toxic oil or wax/oil blend that will need to be reapplied now and then.  When wooden items are washed off, the water tends to raise the grain and produce that rough feel that we're probably all familiar with.  If necessary, you can quickly sand the item down with medium or fine-grit sandpaper and recoat it.

     The advantage to wax/oil blends, in my experience, is that they feel smoother to the touch and tend to hold up a bit better than oil alone. You can buy wax/oil blends at most hardware stores or big box home stores (they'll be sold as butcher block conditioners, or something like that), but it's also fun and easy to mix up your own.  Here's how I do it:

You can use a double boiler to melt the beeswax, although I just use a saucepan filled about
 halfway with water and a stainless steel bowl on top of it.  The burner is set to medium-high heat.
  As soon as you put in the beeswax, you’ll want to add the mineral oil.  I used 22 ounces of oil and half a pound (8 oz) of wax.  As the beeswax melts, it peels off in small chunks and dissolve.

   Within five or ten minutes, the beeswax will have melted and mixed in evenly with the oil- there’s no need to stir.

 The hot wax/oil solution can then be poured into jars.

As the blend cools, it turns white.

Within 30 minutes or so. the whole jar will have likely reached an even temperature and consistency.

   Applying the finish couldn’t be easier- just rub it on liberally, and let it soak in for about ten minutes.  Buff it with a dry paper towel or rag to remove the excess, and you’re done.  You can recoat anytime the item looks a bit dry.  And don't forget the most important rule of thumb: keep wooden kitchen items out of the dishwasher!

Monday, February 13, 2017

Get lumber like this for $1/foot

Drooling over those gorgeous slabs that you see people using for tabletops and more and wondering where to get them without breaking the bank?  Well, you may have great resources in your area that have got you covered.  But if you don't, or if you'd like to explore another way, I'll spell out the method that I use.  I call it, in the tradition of overly-dramatic storytelling since time immemorial, The Plan.

First, some background.  A few years ago, I got tired of seeing arborists buzzing up good logs into firewood-sized chunks- those were logs that I could've put to much better use, frankly.  So I started scheming.  My thinking went like this:

If I had a sawmill, I could mill those logs into lumber on the cheap.  Well, sawmills aren't exactly free, so scratch that idea.  Plus I don't have the time, space, or energy.

But... I found a couple of sawmills in our area that said they'd happily saw up logs for me if I could just get them there.

So that became the problem.  Logs are heavy- easily 1000 pounds- and my old pickup isn't really sturdy enough.  Plus I don't have a team of strong guys at my beck and call.  And if I did, I'd have to pay them, which would really fly in the face of the whole "on the cheap" premise that I was trying to work with.

But... I could get a trailer.  Except then I'd have to store it. Plus I don't want to own a trailer that really just sits around taking up space 99.9% of the time.  And they're not exactly free, either.

Finally, though, I figured it out.  I came up with a way to get lumber from logs with minimal heavy lifting and minimal work.  Let's face it: necessity may be the mother of invention but laziness is definitely its father.  In other words, while I do plenty of heavy lifting on a regular basis, I'm not looking for more.

Here's the behind-the-scenes reality that makes The Plan possible: arborists have to load up the "waste" (aka treasure in the form of logs) at the end of a job anyway, and they have to unload it at a dump or green waste facility or something like that.  They often have cranes or other heavy equipment to make short work of this.

The Plan:

1) Find an arborist.  Have them drop the logs at your sawmill instead of their trash heap.
2) Slide them some cash for their time and trouble.
3) Wait for the sawmill to call when your boards are ready.

I did a test run with a 1000bf of mixed of different species, and paid about $.75/foot for the lumber.  Much of it was 18" wider or more- try finding that stuff in profusion at your regular lumber retailer.  In researching the topic, I found that $.50-$1.00/board foot seems to be pretty average for having lumber sawn.  The result: a total success.  I'll keep doing it.

Extra Considerations:

In general, the yield won't be all primo lumber, so there'll be some waste (or "rustic" grade).  FYI.

Not all logs are created equal.  Some species, widths, and grain patterns are more coveted than others.

You can specify the thicknesses you want

You can leave live edges or have them milled off

If the logistics are right, you might be able to have a portable bandsaw mill come to your site.

Some sawyers will allow you to be on hand during the sawing so you can have input into how it is done

Some sawmills will have a minimum charge, so you may want to make sure to have a few logs piled up before they fire up the mill.  This shouldn't be too hard to arrange.

Frankly I think this is actually viable as a business idea under the right circumstances; you'd mostly just need a place to store the lumber and a big enough customer base.

As for drying the wood- I usually go with air drying (1 year per inch as a rule of thumb), but my sawmill has a kiln, which you can use and then you'll have ready-to-use lumber in just a couple of months for a small extra charge.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Slab Top Coffee Table Project

I harvested this slab of elm from a tree that grew just three miles away. When it had to come down, I had two logs milled into boards. This is the last board from that tree. It measures 48" long x 19" wide x 1" thick and it has incredible natural character. I made the base from walnut scraps left over from a bathroom vanity that I built for a home in Park City, Utah. So it is a fine example of locally made, sustainably-sourced goods, and I hope that it manages to be inspirational or helpful in some way.

I used a jigsaw to trim the slab to length a create
a faux live edge.  Not a bad sta
I marked the locations for the legs- I didn't worry
about making a perfect rectangle, as this
piece was kind of organic in nature anyway.

I used an angle gauge to determine an angle that
looked right for the legs.  It ended up being 15 
I used an angled drilling guide, and I used the
angle gauge to set it to the right angle.
After testing the setup on scrap, I drilled holes
for the four legs.

The legs were milled from 1" x 1" walnut.

I used the bandsaw to cut tapers on the ends of
each leg so that the taper cutter fit.

This taper cutter isn't cheap but it's worth it, and it should last
a lifetime.

I cut a slot into each round tenon.  This one
wasn't lined up so well, so I made another.

I used  a belt sander to make wedges from
contrasting wood to fit the slots.  

I made the legs longer than necessary, because
I figured I'd need to level the table.  I shimmed
the legs up so that the top was level.

I then ripped a scrap of plywood to a width that
would create a finished height of 18".

The legs were all trimmed in different amounts,
but the results was a level table with no
perceivable wonkiness.

I cut the tenons off with a flush-cut saw.

Fitting the short stretchers was tricky business-
I used an angle finder to determine the angles.

I used slightly narrower stock for the stretchers
so that I created a nice reveal.

I secured the stretchers with Miller Dowe
The long stretcher went in just above the short
ones.  I set them into place so I could see where
to mark them.

I marked the vertical cuts directly from the legs,
and used a ruler to extend the angle of the leg
onto the horizontal surfaces.  This made for
compound cuts, which I approached cautiously
but nibbling away and readjusting until they fit
I used Miller Dowels again, although plugged
screws would've been a good choice, too.

The sanding was just business as usual
The walnut yielded a nice little bonus.