Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Scrap Roundup

I once knew a guy who ran a shop making cabinets... He was very fanatical about getting rid of scraps. He wouldn't keep anything smaller than half a sheet of plywood. As far as he was concerned, anything he threw out had been paid for by the client, so he wasn't throwing away any of his own money. It was someone else's trash, and it was taking up valuable space in his (admittedly, small) shop. He encouraged people to take what they wanted from his dumpster. It meant less waste that he'd only have to pay to dispose of anyway, so it worked out for everyone. I got some good hunks of bamboo plywood that way.

I'm not that vigilant yet, but I do at least try to keep the amount of scrap to a reasonable level. I have a designated scrap bin, and anything that doesn't fit in there, goes out. That said, I do find myself looking for productive uses for scrap that is otherwise dumpster-bound, as do other folks that I know, so here's a rundown of some of the good uses that I've found, to date.

---- Push Sticks ----

Anything slightly larger than a full sheet of paper is push stick material, and it gets stored in a milk crate for that purpose. I laid out the design for my push sticks on a full size sheet, and so the blanks I use for making new push sticks are that size. I get two push sticks out of each blank. The design I came up with hooks onto the side of the fence, so it's always at hand when I need it. The top edge is parallel to the bottom edge. That means that when the bottom has gotten chewed up beyond safe use, I can reference the top edge against the fence, rip the chewed up section away, and cut a new notch. This way I get a few uses out of each push stick. The way the back is angled, pushing forward will lever the front end down, to help keep the board from popping up if it hangs on the back edge of the blade.   Once in a while I'll make a batch that fills up about 2/3 of a milk crate. Last time I did that, it lasted me roughly 5 years.

Looking down into the milk crate above, the push stick on the right is 1/2" ply, faced with quartersawn oak veneer. Some folks might think that's pretty fancy for a push stick. I think it keeps me from hanging on to a scrap that I would very likely never actually use, but that I'd save, simply because it was 'fancy.'

---- Thin/ Narrow Push sticks ----

When you get down to stock that's less than 1/4" thick, a regular push stick just feels unsafe. Especially when you're working with 1/8" or thinner... it gets tickled upwards by the back edge of the blade, and... things happen. Usually, not good things, either. So, I'll use a length of scrap like this, to hold the material firmly down against a zero clearance insert. It keeps the full length of a thin, and narrow (in this case, 1/4" wide) strip under control, while it's being firmly escorted past the blade.

Basic criteria here, the scrap should protrude above the fence by 1/2"-1". Run the blade at least an inch or two higher than the material... The higher up the blade is, the more the leading edge exerts a down-force, instead of pushing back, and is less likely to splinter thin stock.

I've also used a similar tactic to rip really thin strips from thicker stock, in this case 1/16". Having a riving knife really helps, but having direct pressure on top of the strip to keep it pressed against a good zero clearance insert is also a good way to keep things stable. The fact that it's a fresh push stick with clean, square edges helps. And the fact that it's just a hunk of scrap means that pretty much every time I do this, I'll be using a fresh, clean push stick.


---- Short Cross-cut setup blocks ----

I have a scrap of mahogany that's cut to 6" long, and a hunk of ash that's 12" long. I use them for a lot of things. In this case, they're great for helping with short cross-cuts of narrow material. Anything less than 2-3" is probably too short to controllably cross-cut with the fence on a miter gauge. So, I'll set the rip fence to 6" over the length that I need, place the 6" block against the fence, and bump the material up against the block.

In this case, I'm cutting 1" pieces. Trying to reliably hold something that small against a miter gauge fence is hazardous, period. So, I set the fence to a 7" cut, and use this setup block to position the stock on the miter gauge fence. After that, I'll hold the material against the miter gauge fence by hand, and make the cut while leaving the positioning block behind. End result is a 1" piece.

---- Router table setup blocks ----

This is a by-product of the fact that my router table is hooked directly onto my table saw, but either way, if you're running grooves that need to be a specific dimension from an edge, it's ridiculously easy to cut short chunks of whatever to use to help set your fence: Insert block between bit and fence, check to make sure that the bit just barely grazes the end of the block, adjust fence accordingly. I'll label them if they're a reasonably common size, but because scraps are everywhere, and the short cross-cut setup block makes it so easy to cut accurate short lengths, it's almost easier sometimes to just cut a new one than it is to find one that's pre-cut.

I've tried to think up faster ways to set up the fence... For instance, I could add a L-R adhesive scale to the fence rail, to show distance from the fence to the center of the router collet, but then I remember that I use plywood bits a lot, so the math gets hazy. ("Okay, center of the bit is here, diameter is 31/64, half of that for the radius is 31/128", that's the location of the edge of the bit... wait, I can't even see that small... Who thought this was a good idea?")

There is a scale for setting up the fence to the left of the blade, and it's good enough to help me move the fence in predictable increments, relative to the bit, which you can't do with most router table fences. So... the setup block routine is pretty quick.

I love my router table.

---- Drill Press fast blocks ----

I mentioned these recently, but they do get a lot of use. It's just so much faster to drop in a couple of chunks of plywood to elevate the material when it doesn't need to be a super- accurate hole, or when there's a lot of bit-changing going on. It's also proven to be very useful as a secondary surface when I'm drilling aluminum or steel, so the oil and swarf doesn't ruin the surface of my drill press table... or anything else that will someday get put on that surface.

Friday, June 5, 2015

News from Scotland

I got an email this morning from Karl Holtey.

 It started this way: "Hi James The time has come for me to retire, after 26 years..."

 (To be clear, I'm not buddies with Karl. I ordered a few plane irons from him way back when, so I was clearly on a mailing list )

He goes on to describe what will be his last plane model, the 984, which will be a 13.5" panel plane to complement the 983.

I clicked over to his website, and found a few new things... He'd wrapped up the run of transitional planes that he'd started earlier. There's a third and final version of the 11-S. His bullnose planes are up... To be fair, I hadn't visited the site in a while, so this may all be old news, but it does look like he's tying up loose ends.

It's weird, hearing about Karl Holtey retiring. It's like seeing (or reading about) a star go out. A well deserved retirement, no doubt, but still.