Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Kreg fence micro-adjuster

This is another gizmo that has been a game changer for me.

Kreg makes a lot of gizmos and other bits and pieces to go with their L-shaped T-track profile. They use this profile for miter gauges, production fences, and even a band saw fence. I like the simplicity of their system, and of the stops that they've come up with. And I like that it's modular, because that makes it easy to modify things

I figured out a while ago that I could make a long miter bar by using a 4' hunk of Kreg's production fence and bolting it onto the miter head in place of the 2' section that it came with. The reason I wanted to do this was simple: I wanted a quick and easy way to cut things accurately to length. The only real problem with this is that the miter bar that hooks onto the head is aluminum, and it's a bit flimsy when you're working with a 4' miter fence. Bah. Eventually I made my cross-cut sled, and that helped.

That said, I still worked with the four footer on the miter bar for a while, and in my quest to find a more accurate way to adjust the stop block, I decided to see if I could re-purpose the micro-adjust that they offer for their band saw fence. I drilled a hole in an inch of t-track, slipped a square nut into it, and hooked it onto the micro-adjuster, and voila, it worked. It's not perfect, but it makes minute adjustments to the production stop a lot more accurate than doing it by hand.

I used to use Kreg's adhesive scale on the fence. But eventually I started making cuts on both sides of the blade, and I found that it gave an illusion of accuracy that wasn't really there. It was good for quick work, but parallax gets in the way, and my ability to micro-adjust rendered it a moot point.

At some point I want to get a steel bar made for the miter head, with a dedicated, non-adjustable 90 degree head. Once I have that, I'll take the time to dial in my setup a little more. For now, this has enabled me to blur the line between accurate and precise work in the machine room, both in terms of my ability to cut stock, and my ability to cut joinery on the table saw.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

My Tranny Problem

I don’t know where the term ‘transitional’ plane comes from, but the type of plane it describes is basically a wooden bodied plane with an adjuster. There’s a wide range of planes that fit this rough description.

I really had a thing for the Stanley versions when I was first starting out at North Bennet, because I was convinced that I would be able to restore them and turn them into better, more functional tools, with fancy new soles that were as long as I wanted. The venerable Stanley #8 tops out at 28” long. But in theory, I could build myself a 3 foot long, wooden bodied jointer plane. I have no idea why I would really need such a long plane, let alone a wooden one, but I still had a lot to learn about using planes at the time. Truth be told, I think I just wanted the satisfaction of having the longest tool in the bench room.

The Stanley and Sargent versions were fairly simple, with the adjuster and frog sitting flatly on top of a beech block. My experiences with them weren’t very enjoyable. More often than not, they clogged. The totes also loosened up pretty regularly, and the adjuster was hard to get to. And in general, they were really only good for rough work. Part of the problem was that while the mouths were pretty wide, the throats were really tight. (See photo) If you get a good look, you'll see that the throat is tightest around where the chip breaker is, so anything that curls off of the iron will fill the space, and clog, and jam the plane. And if you look at the allowed space to get fingers, etc in there, you'll see that it's a losing battle. Too many times I had to pull the lever cap, iron, and everything out to clear a jam.

But I really wanted them to work, and I went to pretty extensive lengths. I bought an aftermarket blade and chip-breaker from Lie-Nielsen, which was special ordered, because they had to mill a second hole in the chip breaker to work with this kind of plane. (They did the mod for free. Times like that I really love Lie-Nielsen.) I patched up the mouth to make it nice and tight, figuring it might help.

When that didn’t work, I chiseled out the patch, chiseled out most of the throat, and installed a new patch, that was thin, and beveled at the mouth, to allow shavings to pass more easily. There was enough room with the chiseled out throat for me to get two fingers in there to clear out the shavings that would inevitably pile up. But no matter what I tried, I couldn’t get the damned thing to do precision work. Eventually I decided that if it was really only good for rough work, that I would just go with it, and use it for rough work. I cambered the iron pretty heavily, and it works well as a jack/fore plane. And I decided to stick with iron planes for high quality work from then on.

At one point, I picked up this little smoother, which was built by a company named Gage. The adjuster’s accessible, the iron bed goes all the way down to the sole... and in fact, part of the sole is iron. Basically, there’s an iron box that goes down through the block to the sole of the plane, to allow (I’m assuming, I never really committed to the plane) for more precision style work to be done. But making a new sole meant piercing it to precisely fit the iron box, and then I’d need to flatten the sole to get it to be co-planar with the iron box. That’s not a job for a power jointer, and it would be really tedious work with a hand plane to keep assembling and re-assembling, so that I could safely plane the block down until it was close enough to sand down to finish dimensions, with the iron throat installed... and hope that the wooden sole remained stable. I never got around to tuning it up, and eventually ebayed the thing. I hope it found its way into more interested hands than mine.

More recently, I’ve been playing with a nice wooden bodied A55 try plane from HNT Gordon, which works much more easily, and precisely. Truth be told, this is the plane that makes me understand the appeal. The wooden sole just glides. And the surfaces it leaves behind look almost burnished. Once I replace the split wooden lever cap with a brass version, I have a really good feeling that this will be my new favorite plane.

And no less an authority than Karl Holtey has tried his hand at making a (Really, *gasp* REALLY) nice transitional plane in recent years. So it’s clear that they can work.

A recent discussion on the topic of wooden planes in general  caught my eye, (specifically pertaining to Krenov style planes, but very relevant to the current topic) and it got me thinking about transitional planes again.

It’s really annoyed me. I gave up on this particular kind of masochism years ago. But I was reading a comment from David Charlesworth on the topic of chip breakers in wooden planes, and he pointed out that if the chip breaker was angled too extremely, then the chip would curl directly into the forward part of the throat, and the plane would clog up. Larry Williams pointed out that (for similar reasons) high angle woodies disappeared with the advent of the cap iron. A high angle blade will break the chip on its own, a standard pitch plane with a chip breaker will launch the shaving right into the wall of the throat, instead of out the top, and the plane will clog. This was exactly the kind of behavior I’d tried to cure in the transitional planes I was playing with 7 years ago. And the HNT Gordon plane (55 degree pitch, no chip breaker) clears shavings just fine.

My experience since then has taught me two things: Wedged, hammer-adjusted wooden planes aren’t hard to make or use,  and iron planes aren’t hard to tune up and use. And either will work incredibly well. But their offspring are another matter entirely. Transitional planes as a breed are intriguing, but some designs are better than others, and the Stanley versions seem to suck with a suckiness that I can't begin to describe in a way that doesn't suck. It's no wonder that some folks resort to treating them like witches. (What do we burn, besides witches? MORE WITCHES!!!)

But there are TWO of those misbegotten nightmares in H. O. Studley’s chest. And he clearly knew a thing or two about how to use a tool. So maybe there’s more to these planes than meets the eye? I can't figure out this particular puzzle for myself, and it vexes me. Appeals to a higher power have been made, but answers will not be forthcoming for a while.

I don’t know how to kick the obsession. I'm a geek, and a mechanical problem solver by nature. But I have too much on my plate these days to really feel like chasing this down.

The real challenge of shop organization

"The art of progress is to preserve order amid change, and change amid order."

-Alfred North Whitehead

But for some reason, sometimes it feels more like preserving order amid chaos, and chaos amid order.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Yet another table saw sled

I've seen some pretty over-the-top, over-wrought ways of cutting an accurate 45 degree angle. It doesn't have to be that way. In fact, it really shouldn't. Your energy should be spent on building things that are useful in a context other than just your shop. Furniture, screen doors, whatever. But you should still focus on accuracy when you can.

This one took about an hour and a half to build, including clean-up.

First step was fitting the Ipé rail to the miter slot in the saw table. I used the micro-adjuster on the fence for this, to get a good, close fit. I also used it to trim the sides of the dado in the MDF to fit. When you can reliably adjust the fence by .002", it's easier the adjust the fence than to mess with shims for a single dado.

(truth be told, I was too lazy to pull out the dado set. 6 passes with the saw blade cuts 3/4" just fine, plus fine tuning to fit the rail.)

Once the rail is in, I put the sled on the table saw, rail in the miter slot, and trimmed the left edge to get my reference edge. (The distance from the edge of the plywood to the edge of the dado is slightly more than the distance from the slot in the saw table to the blade, so that a zero-clearance fit can be made with this trimming step.)

The fences for the sled are pre-drilled, and the holes are counter-sunk on the under-side. Why? MDF doesn't stay flat when you drill into it, it deforms upward around the screw, making a lump that will prevent the fence from settling all the way down onto the sled floor's surface, and gluing up properly. You could screw it down, take the screws out, and re-flatten the surface, I suppose, but this is faster and easier, and doesn't depend on the MDF holding the second set of threads.

Glue is smeared on the underside of the fence, which is then put down. First screw goes in at the business end of the fence. Then you fine-tune the 45, then drive a screw down at the other end. Check the angle again. If it's off, take that second screw out, adjust the fence, and put another screw into a different hole to fix the position. Then drive the rest of the screws, driving that 'off-angle' screw last. Be as precise as you can about getting the 45 as close as you can... it's the whole purpose of the sled, and the only critical step that will really make or break this project.

Repeat for second fence.

I used brass inserts in the fences so I could bolt down the toggle clamps. It's just easier than holding the work down by hand.


No, I'm not referring to Jessica Hagy. I'm talking about the new page at the top of the blog.

I decided the other day that I really like some of the things I've written up here. But the blog format just keeps rolling along, and that means that looking for specific information is a pain. I want some of the entries to be more easily findable and reference-able.

Feedback, suggestions, and requests are welcome, of course...

Happy Wednesday...

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

As it happens, it is Doomsday Wood.

Ipé may or may not be good for people, but it has just broken my mortiser.

The splined hub that connects the handle to the shaft that drives the head up and down has stripped out. No more splines means no more leverage. And no way to even move the bit up out of the wood. Thankfully it's just a test piece.

I've been less than pleased with this machine already, but this is just obnoxious.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The World

"The world isn't interested in the storms you encountered, but whether or not you brought in the ship." -Raul Armesto

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Woodworker version of WebMD?

Ariel's a practicing NP, and WebMD is a pet peeve of hers. In short, it seems to be a way for some folks to catch acute hypochondria.

Yesterday I got back to the shop with a load of Ipé. I made a few dusty cuts with it, and decided to look it up online.

Is it a doomsday wood?

This post suggests that the Lapachol in the dust (the pores of Ipé are filled with yellow lapachol dust) could potentially slow cancer and HIV. That is, if you don't have a blisteringly acute allergic reaction within hours and find yourself hospitalized.

So, I sat in the bench room for the rest of the afternoon, trying to decide if I felt itchy or if I was dying. Nope. Apparently I'm fine.

I did make a point to shave this morning, as I'll be using a respirator to do the rest of the job. I'm not allergic to playing it safe with oily tropical hardwoods, after all. But it is interesting to me that the horror stories always float to the top of an online search.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A magnificent critique of online hobbyists

I can't come up with anything to say about this little gem. It says it all so much better than I could...


Thursday, April 5, 2012

On toolmaking and design

As I continue to plow through back issues, I came across an article on a Vietnamese cabinetmaker named Cong Hoy Vo who was working in a shop in Portland, Oregon, in 1980. The focus of the article was on how he’d arrived in the states with nothing but his own skill, and had to make his own tools to work with when he started working.  Hand planes, chisels, gouges, etc... he made them all himself, by hand, because there weren’t many tools in the shop to work with.

It was clear that Cong Vo was a no-nonsense woodworker who got straight to the point and got things done. His story sounds more like descriptions that I’ve read of Sam Maloof, than of the fussy behavior I’ve seen in school, and in some of the things I read in the message boards.

The second thought I had was that I really enjoy making my own tools, and my own jigs, because it strips away the non-essential. Vo’s methods for making tools were straight to the point, and purely functional. And that’s part of the challenge of tool making. Before anything else, the result has to be functional, or it’s not a tool. And it takes some thought to tease out what’s really necessary. And after that, you have to figure out how you’re going to design and build in all of the required elements.

One of the things that I liked about the recent winding stick/straight edge project is that, for all intents and purposes, a straight edge is one of the most fundamental tools that cabinetmakers and draftsmen really need. To be functional, the edge has to be as straight as it can be made to be, and that project provided a method to accomplish that.

Growing up, I wondered how some of the tools we take for granted came to be. I knew that iron ore was melted and poured into molds, and hammered over an anvil. History class covered that part. But in terms of how the tools evolved from there, I was curious, but went through life feeling generally unenlightened. A straight edge is a fundamental tool of precision, but I had no idea how to derive one in the wild. So, I was excited to have a little bit of light shed on that topic.

Deriving something like my cross-cut sled is obviously more involved. I drew a bunch of sketches, and eventually I started focusing on what I needed the thing to do. What do I really need from a cross-cut sled? What are the elements of the design from which everything else must derive? And that question really drove the process of design and construction in surprising ways. The final result doesn’t look much at all like the sled we used at North Bennet, but that’s actually a good thing, as far as I’m concerned. In the tool-making realm, form necessarily follows function, because if it’s not really functional, it’s basically just folk art.

The point I want to emphasize is that designing and building tools is a useful skill on a basic level. But it’s also a really good exercise in thinking methodically about a project, because those necessities of function take priority over everything else, and that clarifies the process enormously. It clarifies the ultimate goal in a way that nothing else really can. The problem-solving and brainstorming part is still an effort, but with a little bit of patience, it’s surprising just what will float up out of the mental fog. (The problem-solving is a topic I’ll cover soon.)

Monday, April 2, 2012

What Do You Mean, 'Turned Off the Internet?!?'

This post is an aside to all of my commentary about getting off the Internet, among other things.

When I moved in with Ariel in 2008, we agreed that we'd live without a TV. General social uproar ensued. 'You WHAT?!? Oh, you still have the Internet, so you can watch that.' Well, yeah, but it still paid off, because there was a lot more time in the day to do things. We started cooking more, and eating better. We started noticing and clearing out a lot of clutter. And just generally... DOING things.

Two weeks ago, we decided to turn off the Internet service to the house. We still have iPhones, and she has web access at work. And when I need to post a long blog entry, I can log in at Starbucks, which is 5 minutes down the sidewalk. So we're not total Luddites, and we're not shutting ourselves off completely. But with smaller screens, there's good reason to be brief in our email. And the option to log in and zone out, surfing the web in search of nothing in particular, is gone.

Two weeks later? We don't miss it.

So what are we doing with our time? Well, some of it has been spent looking at each other and asking 'Are we REALLY this boring? Let's go do something...' So, married life is getting a lot more exciting and interactive. But what else have I been doing?

That Stuff.

What stuff?

THAT stuff. That stuff I've been meaning to do, that's been collecting, or getting worse, until the day that I 'had time.'

For example, I've been meaning to stitch new soles onto my slippers for over a year now. My pink bunny slippers were grubby and trashed, and looked like they'd been living a most unwholesome life. So I ran them through the wash on Friday, and last night, I sat down to get that done. And now they're finished, and much more comfortable... And attractive... to wear.

One item of many to strike off of the list of 'That Stuff I keep meaning to do.'

And yes, it was also an indulgence in craft, and in making something cool for myself, because the new soles should last for a good, long time. Better than when they were new, and no longer looking like little hobos. Bonus points all around.