Tuesday, July 22, 2014

TED Lecture - Start with WHY

  I have been known  in the evening to surf the internet. I love my work shop but I am also a information junkie, I'll watch a documentary on anything. One thing I go looking for are TED lectures-ideas worth spreading.

  Last evening I watched a a TED lecture that talked about business models and how to make your business successful.  

  My shop is not really a business and it is pretty much as successful as I want it to be but...the idea of Why being the starting place for your actions I think works in more than just business.

Start with WHY

  I think that many organizations not just businesses make the mistake of not thinking about 'why' and so suffer in the long run.  In my shop I make mostly projects for friends, family and myself, that is why I have a shop, and why I make things that could be purchased more cheaply at a Box Store. However I also make cutting boards and wooden toys that I sell at a local craft store, and sometimes making a bit of money obscures the real reason for my having a shop.

  It took me several years to arrive at a clear idea of 'why' I have a shop and I need to remind myself of that 'why' sometimes. My shop connects me with a family history of wood workers, boat builders and carpenters, not cabinet makers or specialised craftsmen. when I started out making stuff I was a wood butcher, now I am a carpenter. Since I grew up around saw dust it is how I express myself, and how I find pleasure. It really isn't about the money.  That is the 'why', everything else just follows on from that.

  Why do you have a work shop? Is it for the money, or is the money a happy by product?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Toy Blocks, and home made tools

  Yesterday I made some wooden blocks for my youngest grandchild.  Tova Elise is just one year old and so doesn't need battery powered toys, yet.

  I made a set of building blocks for Clara last year and so have developed a couple of techniques for small scale production of wooden building blocks.  After squaring a corner on the joiner I ripped the wood to thickness on the table saw.  

  Once I had two dimensions I needed to cut the blocks to size. Rather than set up a stop on my sliding mitre saw I used my table saw sled.  My sled is a bit different than average, mostly because I designed it for cutting small pieces when making toys and things, so it is small sled. Also my table saw sled fits over my blade guard which lets me leave the blade guard on.  I almost never take the blade guard off of my table saw, any more. (i do need to take the guard off to use dado blades, but that is the only time) I resolved to leave the guard on after my last unhappy encounter with the spinning blade.  At this point I don't expect to recover the feeling in my left index finger though the tingling has stopped, almost a year later.

 My sled has the typical two runners but instead of a sheet of plywood I have a frame that fits over the guard attached to the standard back plate.

   You can also see that I made a stop that I clamp onto the back plate to make it easy to replicate cuts.  For the smaller pieces I back the sled off and poke the off cut out of the sled with a pencil or bit of wood. I do not let my fingers get close the the moving blade any more.  It only took three small accidents before I admitted the saw is faster than the eye.

  Once the blocks were cut the were 12 edges that needed to be broken.  If I was planned to make a large number of blocks I would round over four of the edges on the router before cutting the blocks off, this time I didn't bother with that stage.
  Sanding 12 edges could be a pain but with the right tools it is not bad at all. First I used my block plane to shape the four edges that are with the grain, then I used my flat belt sander to shape the cross grain pieces.

  The flat sander is a bit of 3/4 plywood with a sanding belt attached. I have 80 grit on one side and 120 on the other.  It only takes four stokes on the sand paper and the edge is nicely broken.  I use this for these projects because I find the power belt sander too aggressive and so too much material is removed, too easily.  Power belt sanders are for big jobs, in my experience, not for fine touch up.  I made this flat sander a long time ago and keep cleaning it up with my crape block.

Complete, six 1 1/4 poplar blocks, unfinished. I use poplar because it it pretty tough and in many cases has a bit of colour, as you can see.  The blocks are unfinished so that they can be chewed  and there is no concern about chemicals.  I will make some more later. The blocks will have to go a few at a time to Sweden in family suitcases I guess.

Sunday, June 29, 2014


  Like most people my shop is filled with blades: planes, knives and chisels mostly.  I also take a serious interest in the blades in our kitchen as well as the gardening tools. 

  If you are vigilant in your tool maintenance your blades will seldom need to be really sharpened, they only need to be touched up (honed), because the edge has been slightly rounded over in use making it appear more dull than reality.

 The two most common ways to hone a blade are the traditional butcher's steel.

  With experience and practise a honing or butcher's steel will do a good job of keeping knives in top shape. It is easier to use with the longer blades you see in a kitchen.

  Another excellent way of honing blades, and the one I use with my wood carving knives and chisels is a leather strop.

Antique Straight Razor Leather/Wood Strop - Loom Type

   My carving strop is similar to this one, it is leather, glued to a flat pieces of wood and charged with green polishing compound.  In the old days when barbers used 'cut throat' razors they all had a strop hanging from their chairs and before you got shaved the razor was honed on the strop.  Cut Throat razors disappeared before my whiskers appeared so that is an experience I missed. (like many childhood diseases, an experience I am not sad to have missed)

  Neither the steel or the strop is very convenience to carry about and so I used a small ceramic stone (about a 2000grit) for a few years as a pocket touch up stone.  I had a couple of reservations with the ceramic stone:

one: is it heavy and wants to pull my tool belt or pants pocket down, and,
two: if a ceramic stone hits a cement workshop floor the result is modern art in the form of pieces of a once expensive sharpening stone, and so it becomes a detail to be fussed over and worried about while trying to work. I found myself putting the stone away in a drawer and finally it ended up in the tool box containing my carving tools. Not handy at all.

  The solution presented itself about a year ago when I was visiting New York state and stopped into a Rockler store.

DMT credit card diamond stone

  I bought a fine stone and stuck it to a piece of 3/4 inch oak with double sided tape.
  The wood backing provides a place to grip the stone and I have painted the wood red, like all my shop made jigs and tools.  This little honing tool weights almost nothing, is a good size and is unbreakable.  Those characteristics mean that this tool is close at hand when I am working. It is good for touching up an edge without interrupting the flow of the work. 

  I expect to buy another one the next time I am in a Rockler store, in fact. Then I will have one for the bench top and one for my tool belt.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Two Tips

  I was preparing a couple of pieces of walnut for a small project.  As I squared up the piece I reached for my yellow pencil crayon to mark the wood.  The first cheap quick tip for today is use white or yellow to mark on dark wood.  If you've got kids there are pencil crayons laying around, if not check out an art supply store and buy a single pencil.  While a standard graphite is visible, yellow is Hi-Vis.  

  My second tip:
  I have always found taking the bottom bag off my dust collector easy, getting the bag back on; directly challenging gravity, not so easy.  Some times it became a swearing situation.

  After going out of my mind every other  month for a couple or years I hit on a way to reduce the agony.

    I put one of those big yard waste bags into the bottom bag.  The heavy paper provides enough support to the cloth bag so that I can get it replaced on the bottom of the dust collector and the tension ring around the bottom of the dust collector tightened up. (with much less trouble)  I had tried the bungee cord trick but never had a cord of the right length for it to really work. Having the yard waste bag in the dust collector means not having to dump the saw dust into a bag later too.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Draw Knife

I have the luxury of some very good second hand tools.  One of these tools came from my Grandfather's workshop via my Father's workshop.

This draw knife  came in handy when I wanted to remove bark from some of my found wood.  
soon to be a walking stick

  With the wood held in the vise I was able to quickly and easily remove the bark.  The other use for a draw knife is to do the preliminary  shaping before putting a spindle onto your lathe.

  This draw knife has been around for many years and since it is used so seldom it is still very sharp.  The end is preserved by careful(?!) wrapping in a custom sheath.
  Just because it is custom doesn't mean that it is hand stitched albino kangaroo hide.  The wooden slabs are held in place by the large hair elastics that you buy at the $ Store.  Protecting the edge of blade tools is good for them and for you.

  It is finally garden season and as much as wanting to share photos of projects, I have a garden photo to share.

ciematis in the Kids garden
  It was a long cold winter but the glory of summer is here.