Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Introduction to the Wire Nuts

A long time ago in Juneau, I picked up a wonderful sculpture -- if that is the right word -- by Unknown. It was a representation of a paddler in a kayak, beautifully done; the head was a hardware store nut and the rest was plain old electrical wire, except for the paddle blades and a stand; probably brass (it is blackened, can't tell for sure). The thing cost me fifty cents. I call it my Kayak Nut. It is the inspiration for a whole series of posts.

It ocurred to me that most of family and close friends (you know who you are by now) are nuts on one thing or another, so for Christmas I made them appropriate presents.
In this post, I'll do the overview. Left to right, the Keyboard Nut, the Chef Nut, and the Snow Machine Nut. Not in this picture is Horse Nut. An unfortunate omission on my part; maybe I can remedy it at some later date. I do have pictures of the construction stage.

All the figures have nuts for heads, a common theme. There is another common theme: there are expended shells in every figure, this being Alaska. For instance, the keyboard is made out of .22 shells; Chef Nut's hat is a .38 special, the snow machine's track runs on shell rollers (also .38 special). The wire came from a meter of wire that came with the house; too short for me to wire anything with it. I also used some sheet copper I picked up at an antique store for under two bucks; for instance the skis on snow machine are made from it (in the lower 48 states, they call them "snowmobiles." But not in Alaska). The bases are copper, cemented to wood, except for the snow machine. The wood was painted white (I, er, inherited it) and it seemed appropriate to leave it that way for the Satan Sled -- er, I mean, the snow machine. Personally I hate those things; they are always wiping out my ski tracks. Except for one or two joints, it's all silver-soldered. When I started these projects, I wasn't very good at silver-soldering; I am now much better! Practice is the key.

I am very proud of these figures. I don't know whether they are a good joke or a work of art. Perhaps a little of both! Subsequent posts will go into construction of these figures.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Now it can be Told -- the ULU

Christmas is past, presents have been delivered. So at last I can post some of the projects that have been unpostable due to giving the show away for the recipient. The oldest project is the "eskimo" knife, the Ulu. I made four ulus, out of a discarded circular saw blade -- I am sure you know what a circular saw blade looks like! So the first step is to cut the teeth off and then to cut the blade into quarters like a pie. I used an abrasive saw blade on a moto-tool knock-off and it was a chore. No mean feat, the sawblades are intended for tool abusers, i.e. contractors. However, I wound up with four quarters and the hole where the arbor of the saw goes. No pictures at this stage, I was too absorbed by the process.

Then we ground an edge on the blade. My Grizzly Tools wet grinder was right up to this job, but..
... I had to improvise a jig for the grinding process, because the edge of an ulu is circular. The blade is held in a clamp jaw I made long ago; it clamps to a scrap piece of steel, a sawblade in fact, and I rotate the whole thing to get a circular grind. There is no pivot pin (I said it was improvised!) so my grind is a bit freehand. But it worked.

Here are my four blades. The right-hand one is off the grinder; the others wait their turn.
The rightmost blade has had some more cutting done on it, so it can accomodate a handle. The Ulus I made are called Fish River style, I find them easier to make than other styles because there is less cutting to do! There is a lot of information on the net as to styles. I found no articles on making them; maybe wrong search parameters. There is, however, an article on making them by the Rev. J.D. Hooker on Backwoods Home magazine, which inspired this project.

At this point I decided to put a jeweled or engine-turned finish on the blades. What you do is coat the blades with an abrasive. After some experimentation, good old Brasso was the best bet. Then you whirl a cylinder-shaped object over the blade -- preferably in a drill press, I would hate to do this by hand.
Above, the can of Brasso lurks in the background. I am using a worn-down moto-tool accessory as a cutter. The idea is to grind a little circle into the blade. You overlap succesive circles. I did all this by eye; there may be jigs but darned if I know how to make one. Here are a couple of finished ones:
It makes a very pretty finish. It is also very labor-intensive. I doubt that there are any Ulus in Alaska with engine-turned finish, except these four. I turned out a handle on the Taig lathe to see how they handled. I was very pleased with the results. They needed honing, of course. Next step was to turn some handles out of birch branches, a straightforward turning job. I deliberately made them all different shapes.
The last step is to cut a mortise in the handle to take the cutout on the blade. The mortise is about 2mm so I had to make a 2mm mortise chisel first. It has been very useful since then. Just for insurance, I epoxied the blades to the handles.
And behold, a finished Ulu. The mortise chisel lurks in the back, ready for the next task. There is one ulu with a hole in the blade. I kept that one for myself. I have used it every day, just about, since I made them in November 2010. They are a fantastic slicer, dicer, chopper, and general-purpose knife. Up in Barrow, the good Inuit ladies use them to flense whales, this being a very important part of Native culture. So they are up to almost any job. Mine are small, but I have a great big saw blade in the shop ready for the next batch.

If I made these things for a living, the first thing I would do is get myself an angle grinder. Doing ulus on a moto-tool is a chore, as I said. An angle grinder with an abrasive wheel, that's the ticket. Hmmm.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Monsieur le Tabouret

One of the biggest problems of working indoors in a small space is where to put your tools. My solutions to this problem have evolved from utter clutter to today. My first bowl-from-a log holds a lot of stuff. My son, however, suggested a tabouret, a French name for a low-slung, well, bench that goes under the table. That way you can slide it under the kitchen/dining/crafts table when not in use. So I made one, carefully sized so that it indeed goes under the table. Mazel tov. But my planes needed a home. The miniature ones, that is; the big ones have their housing allocated. What I needed, I reasoned, is a set of stalls -- a plane stable, in fact. No horses at Chalupy, except shaving horses.. So I set out to make one.
I happened to have some pine molding from somewhere -- I assure you I didn't buy it -- and the first job was to cut the dadoes (slots) for the planes. Above, the dadoes under development. I sawed down with my miniature dozuki saw from Lee Valley. Couldn't live without that tool. Also have a miniature ryoba, same comment. Then I cut the dadoes with a Stanley mini-router plane. This is an extremely useful tool, and very cheap. You can see it perched top center on the picture. Nowadays dadoes are routed. Pah. The real hand-tool artist uses a dado plane, but these are as common as Dodo eggs. I will not embark on my usual rant on tool collectors, who put these things in cabinets instead of using them. I will add that the Stanley router plane, out of the box, is almost useless. You have to sharpen the cutter. Providentially, the cutter is just as wide as the molding.
The next task is to dowel two pieces of molding together to make a wider shelf. Now doweling is a tricky business. The catalogs are full of wonderful and expensive tools to simplify this task. But I have none. So this is the way I doweled. Note the use of my general-purpose dowel, the supermarket bamboo barbecue skewer, about 3mm diameter. What you do is take one of your dowelees and mark out the dowel positions. At these positions you carefully drill holes, just big enough for the smallest finishing nail in your possession. Cut the head off the nail and slide it into the hole. Then carefully line up the other board. Tap it with a hammer, and you have center-punched your holes on board number two. Then drill all holes out to final size, 3.3 mm or so in my case.
Doing it that way, the dowel holes will line up perfectly. Look Ma, no jigs! But you do have to drill square to the boards, or it will be very unsightly. I used my trusty drill press here. Then we glue up, a process familiar to all woodworkers.
The next step is to glue in the vertical stable walls. Tedious but an interesting exercise in clamp placement. Unfortunately I didn't take any pix of this process. Fit the side in the slot, glue, clamp. Not too dramatic. Final step, drill some holes in the front of the shelf to hold assorted tools. So we have Tabouret 1.1. I really need more scrap wood; I have to secure the shelf better than it is now secured .
And we have reduced entropy (disorder) to some amount. Locally, that is. Universally, entropy does not decrease. But I have reduced more clutter. I think I will build a third shelf.

And my planes are happy; they have a new home.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Tale of Three Saws

It is none too easy for the home tool maker to make a saw without a machine shop, which would exceed by far the cost of going out and buying a saw. Well, given the cost of some good Euro or Japanese tools these days, maybe I should qualify that. It's still hard to make a saw. But there is one type of saw that anyone can make with very rudimentary tools. That is a turning saw.
A turning saw dates back many centuries. It is basically a frame for a thin, narrow blade with a thong or rope to tension it, twisted by a stick. It is primarily used for cutting curves in wood, for instance cutting carvings or spoon blanks. It is, in fact, a poor man's bandsaw and that, in fact, is where the blade comes from. At yard sales you can pick up bandsaw blades for a dollar. You don't care if they fit your saw or not. The saw above was made a year or more ago. It works very well but it is too big (40 cm blade) for my small stuff, and in winter, as we all know, we do small stuff here at Chalupy acres. So I need a smaller turning saw. I still had a lot of bandsaw blade left (just as well, as it turns out).

The first job is to make the uprights and the stretcher.
These are birch branches which have been rived to rectangular section, and then planed smooth. In each upright, we cut a square mortise; you can see it in the leftmost upright. This is not cabinetmaking, but the mortises should be at the same distance from the bottom of the upright. In the stretcher, we cut a loosely fitting tenon. You do not want a tight fit because it should pivot a bit when we stretch the blade. To the left, my Japanese dovetail chisel from Lee Valley, beautiful tool, very useful for paring down the tenon to a loose fit. Next job is to do the knobs. The knobs are not handles; they are used to rotate the blade in the frame so's you can cut at strange angles. The blade can turn, you see; that's why they call it a "turning saw." I confess to the use of power tool:
Yes, I could have used the pole lathe. At -25C in the shop, that probably would have frozen me solid, and besides it has a bowl all chucked up in it so no. However, the knobs don't have to be turned. They could be carved, you could use dowels, you could use a rounder plane, -- etcetera. Symmetry is traditional but by no means necessary, as Drew Langsner points out in Country Woodworking.

Then you saw the thing above in half, drill holes in the uprights and attach the blade. This last task is the most difficult part of the whole operation.

First, you saw a slot in the knobs, right on the diameter, all the way down into the handle. Then you drill a very small hole in the handle at right angles to the slot (cross-drilling it is called). Through this hole you will put a pin (brad, in my case) which will go through a corresponding hole in the blade. So you have to drill a teensy hole in the blade.

So you measure carefully and break off your bandsaw blade to the right length. (Run a three-corner file over it to score it, put it in a vise, snap it.). If at this point you tried to drill it you would either break the bit or have it skitter off the blade. The blade is hard. So you have to anneal the blade. Sorry I didn't get pictures of this -- too busy! You take your trusty propane torch and heat 2 cm of the blade ends red hot. Let it cool. Voila, annealed. Now you can drill it. Problem: this particular blade is about 3mm wide. My original brads, 1.7mm. Extreme precision is called for. I didn't do it, and paid the price. The hole in the blade was too big, broke under tension. Tomorrow I will remake the blade (sigh) and this time I will use a very small pin, 1.4mm, which I found in my odds and ends, and my Veritas optical center-punch. But oh well, live and learn. Getting the pin through the hole in the blade requires patience. Bad language is futile. Play it again, Sam, as Bogie did not say in Casablanca.

Here is the collection of turning saws:
Mr Big you have met; Mr Middle is the current project; and perched on the stretcher of Mr Middle is a very nano saw indeed, 20mm long and barely visible in the small pic. It is one of Woodworker's tools in the Crafts Tableau. It has a real blade, a fretsaw blade 0.7 mm wide (it broke in the line of duty). I had to epoxy the blade in place; no way I can drill in the middle of a 0.7 mm blade -- well, maybe I could, but it would be very, very, difficult. Really a job for a mill/drill. Not sure what I could use to pin it, either; maybe a dressmaker's pin.

I got some use out of Mr Middle before the blade broke. It will be a very useful tool for roughing out carvings, spoons and other curvy stuff.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

We interrupt our reglarly scheduled programming...

I was going to do a post on turning saws, but that will wait. I just got my Christmas present to myself from Lee Valley. In the catalog it is labeled the Iltis axe, but I don't know where they got that label from.
It is my new Carving Axe. It is made by the McGowan manufacturing Co. in Tucson, Az. Lee Valley (who has yet to let me down) said I could use it to rough out carvings, or as a camp axe. So I got it. I am very happy I did. It still has to be named; that comes later. I couldn't resist. I picked up a piece of birch I had indoors, dry as a bone; this is not greenwood stuff! In under five minutes I had the spoon blank at right of axe. Unbelievable. The thing is ready to use as it comes from the box. This, to say the least, is unusual. So I spent an hour roughing out a spoon and I was done. Usually it takes me a two-three hours to do it. The axe made the difference.

Note the design of the head. It has a hole or cutout at the bottom. This is called a "bearded" design. So you can put your hand in there, and it's a knife! I used it to good purpose. The edge is very, very good. Amazing. I usually have to spend a couple hours getting a decent edge on store-bought tools. The handle, again amazingly, is laminated birch. The whole thing weighs under a Kilo. The literature says it was designed by one Arlan Lothe, who was caught out deer-hunting in the Montana wilderness with only a hunting knife for tools. So he thought there had to be a better way to do it and there it is. It works as a knife, an axe, and, I suppose, a hammer. It comes with a real leather sheath. Superb. Like all good leather, the fit is now very tight, but it will loosen up.

Very seldom do I see this kind of quality in USA-made tools. It seems that manufacturers have been invaded by MBAs, and axes made by MBAs are really, really, deficient. I applaud McGowan for their standards, and thank Lee Valley once again for their offers.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Tableau in Progress

Looking through my labels, I see no entry under tableau. Most disconcerting. The closest is "miniatures". Now tableau is a French word, it can mean, for example, "blackboard" or "table", as in a spreadsheet. Dreaded words from the French Teacher in a Venezuelan bachillerato (high school): "Monsieur Rivero, au tableau!" Meaning I had to go up to the blackboard and perform. However, it can also mean a small-scale display, sort of a "diorama" so beloved by museums. I have posted on two of my tableaux (French plural used) before. But this is a work in progress and I am posting on it now, so you can see how it grows. This is the Crafts Tableau.
This is a tableau that is meant to represent various crafts. Going clockwise from right, we have Woodworker. He will eventually be planing a board on his brand-new workbench. The workbench was one of this week's project. It is made out of fireworks. Yes, fireworks. This fourth of July, the locals set off a vast amount of fireworks, which I abhor; they left the detritus scattered about. There were some very nice 6mm square pieces of wood left over and I took them. They made a nice frame. The top is birch, I must have cut it on the bandsaw because it is a couple mm thick. Much more work to be done; he needs some tools and especially a real plane.

Then comes Smith. His anvil is the sharp piece of an Alaska railroad spike, used to fasten track to sleepers (or ties). Hammer made from a piece of rod filed hexagonal. This was a lot of filing! If you want to work metal, you must learn to file. Eventually he will get tongs (to hold his work) and some work to pound on.

Finally we have Weaver. She is posed at the spinning wheel, because her loom is a major project all by itself. But no matter, the spinning wheel is awfully nice if I do say so myself. It was very difficult; I thought I could make it work, but alas, the scale is too small. I can't get the small axle to spin. The wheel was difficult, and here it is under construction:

The rim is a piece of alder which I steamed; humb is birch, and the spokes are one of my favorite materials, 3mm barbecue skewers from the grocery store.

This week I made the blade for the plane which Woodworker will use to plane his board. It was once a nail. It actually shaves wood. Amazing.

You may also see that Smith's hat is missing a top. Wood does not always accomodate art. We'll deal with that later.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Tiny Tools

Ah, winter is here. Your friendly mercury, or its digital equivalent, hit -22C today. So we go skiing, but that leaves a lot of hours in the day. So this sourdough makes, as you are well aware, miniatures. But making miniatures requires miniature tools. I have some I have bought; I could not survive without my miniature Japanese saws from Lee Valley. Mainly I have learned to make them. I have posted on miniature planes before, but here's a hitherto-unposted bunch.
You will recognize, in the northwest and southeast corners, the tiny planes. New fellows, on the SW-NE diagonal, are the try square, used of course to square things up. The blade is sheet metal, and the top needs some more filing to get it truly square, but it is already useful. Above him is a very small froe, used to split, for example, the ribs on Tip the canoe. The yellow thing is a 45 degree triangle, useful for the tiny planes, which are all bedded at 45 deg. Above that, an awl made from a broken needle (it broke while sewing up Tip Canoe, which prompted me to rebend a needle). Useful for clearing out Morse #50 drill holes, for instance. And above that, my pièce de résistance, the tiny clamp. It is made on the pattern of a machinist's clamp. The jaws are wood -- same wood as the plow plane in the SE corner. I found out that I could tap it as if it were steel! I went to our Willow hardware store and found some longish 6-32 screws; the nice circular handles are made on the Taig lathe out of hardware store rod. I drilled the the handles on the Taig with a tailstock drill, so they are concentric with the cylinder. Tapping small holes is a nail-biting exercise. Taps are very hard. Have to be; they are cutting steel most of the time. That's like glass -- very hard, but shatters on impact. So it is very easy to break a tap. The smaller the tap, the easier it is to break. But I tapped the handles. Now I need to find my thread locker goop so I can lock the handles to the screws (which are hardware store, beheaded). And this brings up al kinds of possibilities; I could use aluminum instead of wood to make clamps, for instance. We will see. It is fun to make a tool; you feel independent. But I'd love a micro bandsaw to resaw my planes. Proxxon makes one, but alas, it is very expensive.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Tippecanoe (no Tyler) II

Well, I have done enough miniature plane work (nonsense. I am rebuilding the rabbet plane now) so it is time to return to Tippecanoe, or Tip for short. My digression with planes was due to the fact that I had to plane the ribs of the canoe to 1x3 mm. This is kinda small. As it turned out, the only way to get the ribs in place is to steam them. The evolved procedure is (1) make a paper pattern. This will give you the right length. Otherwise you will have to take out and recut (and worse, put in) the silly things until they snap into place. Paper is much easier to do than strips of wood. (2) Rig a steamer. My steamer is a piece of plastic pipe with a wire-mesh plug (keep the strips out of the water) stuck into my teakettle. Works. (3) Extract the strip from the steamer. Very hot. Try to pre-bend it. (4) With tweezers and a hemostat get the rib placed. This is an exercise in patience. Being springy it loves to spring out; start all over. (5) Be high-tech. Anchor it with super glue. Forget regular glue. Takes too long to dry.
Above, Tip's ribs are in place. I have made two thwarts -- all canoes have thwarts, and some people sit on them, but long ago I learned to kneel to paddle a canoe. After that, it is all needlework. I made a curved needle for the purpose; I heated it and bent it (if you do that cold, it will break!). So I had a U-shaped needle. Don't need it amidships, but you sure do at bow and stern. After that, it's all stitching. I finally got smart and anchored the stiches with superglue. Tip has about a dollar's worth of superglue in him.
There he is, complete with paddle. The tools of the trade lie about. You can just see the curved needle stuck in the spool of thread.

I was trying to learn how a birchbark canoe is put together and I learned a good deal. Tip's bottom is far from flat. I did not use a bottom former, so Tip would float but not be too stable. The next canoe model will try to account for this, bottom former and all. But it's all good fun, except when your rib snaps out after you have put it in. I wonder how you say %^&_%** in Ojibway?

My troubles are not unique. Dr. C. Nepean Longridge built a 1/4 scale model of the Victory, Nelson's flagship at Trafalgar (preserved at Portsmouth UK). He wrote a book on it, The Anatomy of Nelson's Ships, which I have (q.g.). It took him 12,000 hours or so. The model is some 7 ft long; over 2 meters. And even on such a monster, he had a lot of troubles! The book is wonderful, jam-packed with tips and tricks, and withal very modest. The trouble is that our fingers are not to scale!

And as a final note on the marvels of modern marketing, hemostats (made in Pakistan) are available at Wal-Mart. Yes, Wal-Mart. You have to go to the fishing section, where you find them sold at $3.50, labeled "fly-tying pliers." Sure. I have to tie some flies this winter too. Hemostats will come in very handy.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Plow Plane, 0.2

In the last episode, we had plow plane v0.0 complete with flaws. Must make a new one. Now a plane, full-size or miniature -- I should say, a wooden plane -- is a block of wood with a peculiar hole in the middle. One side (back) is a ramp, at a precise angle, that supports the blade; the bed as it is called. The front side is another ramp, at a different angle. There are two ways (that I know about) to cut these holes. One is to drill, by hand or by press, some pilot holes at the correct angles. (The correct angle depends on what kind of plane it is. Typically the back ramp is 45 deg.). Then you hollow out the hole, with chisel or, better, a planemaker's float, which is a cross between a rasp and a chisel. The other way, popularized by the late and great James Krenov, cabinetmaker extraordinary, is to take a block of wood, saw it into three pieces longwise (rip), cut the middle piece to shape -- a simple task -- and glue it all back together again.

So I decided to do it the Krenov way. The rabbet plane of the previous post was done the first way; it was very difficult! I had, of course, no planemaker's floats. Fortunately, courtesy of my daughter, I have an old table. I cannot say what kind of wood it is, but it looks very much like some relative of mahogany, stained walnut. It's nice wood. First job is to cut the basic block to size.
Sorry about the background. I've put newspaper down on my all-purpose dining, crafts, and arts table. But there's the block. How big? Interesting. What I did was measure Mr. Liu Ban, introduced in the last post. Then I played around with my old slide rule until I got a decent scale. (How old-fashioned! A slide rule! But it is much more convenient than a calculator. You can move the cursor around until you get a nice set of numbers far, far faster than punching numbers into a calculator.) The scale turned out to be 0.4; so the new plow is 66 mm long. All other numbers are nice whole mm. You can see that the block has been marked out into three parts. The middle is where the blade goes. So I made a new blade, microforge stuff, 4mm wide. The middle stripe is 4mm wide and it should have been wider, because you need some clearance. Hindsight is wonderful.

Next step is to drill some registration holes. This is so that when you put the thing back together again, it all lines up. It is a sandwich, you see. Then we cut the sandwich apart along the dotted lines. A classic rip cut. Mr. Krenov used a bandsaw for this, but he was working full size. If I had a small enough bandsaw I'd use it too; these cuts are critical.
For this I used my miniature Dozuki saw. A Dozuki saw is a crosscut saw, but I used it because it has a paper-thin kerf. Above, the three pieces of the sandwich. In retrospect I should have drilled another two registration holes; not fatal. Now we mark out and cut the front ramp. I used the Krenov Kanonical angle, 62 deg. Liu Ban is 90 deg. I didn't like that, although it works perfectly well. I wanted a ramp.

So there, cut out, is the filling of the sandwich. All angles correct, no fuss with floats. The registration holes were drilled such that they acommodate supermarket bamboo skewers, used for barbecues. I use them for dowel stock; they are about 2.8mm. So we push the skewers through the holes and assemble our sandwich.
It might be a plane! The blade is much thicker than in v0.0; it is a piece of Sawz-all blade; makes magnificent blades (or knives!) Took a while to make and sharpen; worth it. Note the super micro machinist's clamps. Available from Lee Valley. At this point I realized I should have cut the center section a tad thicker. Sigh. So I filed the blade down a bit. Tedious. Moral: cut outside the scribed lines! Or scribe a little wider. In this scale a tenth mm is too much. Next step is to glue the sandwich together.
When gluing, there is no such thing as "too many clamps." You never have enough clamps, much like friends and money. After unclamping, we have to cut a groove in the bottom of the plane to accomodate the skate. Plow planes ride a skate, probably because wood would wear out in no time. Cutting the groove was very difficult. If I did this for a living I'd figure out some kind of a jig. But the result is now
The skate is a piece of scrap sheet metal I found somewhere. It is in place, but not glued. A temporary wedge has been made for the blade. A pin to hold the wedge (in fact a common brad) has been added. At this point you have to fuss around until it all lines up. I epoxied the skate to the groove, screws are out of the question. The epoxy is drying as I write. I even filed a registration groove into the back of the blade to mate with the skate. That was a very difficult thing to do, but I did it. Swiss files are wonderful. Preliminary tests of v0.2 are are very favorable.

I have gone into all this detail (practically a tutorial) because I wanted to show how a Krenov plane is made. It is much easier than the traditional way. It is even easier if you work full size, because a tenth millimeter error won't hurt. Of course, you should read all of Krenov's books. You can Google him to good effect. The Fine Art of Cabinetmaking is the one you need if you want to make planes. Also very good is David Finck's Making & Mastering Wooden Planes (q.g.). Finck is one of Krenov's pupils. And if you are making full-size smoothing planes and don't do forging, you will need irons (blades) for your planes. See the Hock company's web page. You could also cut down regular plane blades, as Krenov did.

And I have introduced a new abbreviation, q.g. Patterned after q.v. which is Latin for quod vide (which see), it means quod google. Punch it in and go.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Two very small planes

While I was planing down lilac branches for Tip the birchbark canoe, I found (and am still finding) that holding the wood down is the hard part. This is true whether you are planing big stuff or miniature --- if the wood will stay put, you can plane it. If it does not, you will have major trouble. So, I thought, how nice it would be if I could cut a groove in a board. That would hold the strip down much better than my hand. Now cutting grooves is a job for a plow plane. And since most of my Christmas presents are done, why not make a miniature plow plane? I happen to own a perfectly good Liu Ban plow plane, made in Hong Kong, but it is much too large for what I want to do. So I hauled out my book, Making Traditional Wooden Planes by James Whelan and imitated.
At right is the full-size article by Mr. Liu Ban, and very handsome it is too in Chinese rosewood. It takes some adjusting and fussing but it plows very nice grooves. At left, a 70mm plow plane made out of brand X wood (found somewhere) with a 3mm cutter made out of a retired hacksaw blade. Does it work? After a fashion. Plow planes are strange creatures (you can Google "plow plane" if you're interested). They ride on a skate, a thin piece of metal that also supports the blade. The skate has to be centered on the blade. The skate gave me catfits. I wound up padding a piece of sheet metal with old circular saw blade pieces; the whole thing epoxied. Real planes are allowed to use screws. But at 70 mm you'd need watchmaker's screws. Well, it shows promise but needs more work. If Liu Ban is fussy, midget plane is amazingly fussy. It is hard to get the right cutter depth. The blade is too flexible. The bedding angle is wrong (I used 45 deg, the usual angle for a plane; it is too steep). So now underway is plow plane v0.5. Much thicker blade, thick skate. Different angles.

This is my second miniature plane. Sometime last winter I made a miniature rabbet plane. I made it mostly out of birch.
It wouldn't work. This morning I discovered I had the bevel reversed (blush) and it now works very nicely. Here it is planing a rabbet (or rebate) in a piece of pine. Lovely curly shaving; it works! So I am happy. Most planes work bevel down.

I will have some more things to say about plane construction later. The things I will say come from full-size practice, so they are applicable to full-size planes as well.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Silly Partridge, er, Spruce Grouse!

When you're out skiing, you always hope for some wildlife. Fortunately, the bears, which you do not want to encounter under any circumstances, are sound asleep up in the mountains somewhere. Do bears dream? Science is mute on the subject. Moose, of course. Foxes sometimes. When all else fails, there is often the silly partridge.
In reality, this is no partridge. It is an Alaska Spruce Grouse. But I call them Silly Partridges, because their preservationist instinct is well below the norm. Dumb, in fact. This is why in fall, when they are fair game, they wind up in many a village pot. I play a game with these silly birds. How close can I get? The art is to move very, very slowly. And space the intervals. Apparently the silly things have no size sensor, they don't notice I am getting closer... and closer.

So far my record is about one meter. I think I could get even closer. It is all patience, you see. Of course the Russian village uses a .22 or maybe a .410 shotgun. If times get really bad maybe I could hunt them, but I kind of like the dumb clucks.

The one in the picture would fly away for maybe 3 meters. I, of course, advanced the same amount. We played this game for a while, until M. or Mme. Silly P. flew up into a spruce tree. I still could have reached it with a ski pole! One wonders if Darwin got it all. If the Beagle had visited Alaska, maybe he'd change his mind.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Tippecanoe, without Tyler too

I have been setting up the Navajo loom for a new ruglet, and it is really mind-boggling. I'll report on that later. Meanwhile, I came across a reference to birchbark canoes on Bodger's forum. I needed a break from the loom, so why not build a model canoe? Tippecanoe and Tyler too. Now, most boats, from very small to very large, are built on the idea that first you build a frame and then you put on the skin -- planking, sealskin, whatever. But not a birchbark. Here, you are supposed to build a canoe form. Then the birchbark is shaped into the form, probably with the aid of boiling water. The hull is built inside the skin. The frame, gunwales (pronounced "gunnels" for some obscure reason) are sewn on to the skin with spruce root "thread." Well, OK, I said, a "model" will give me an idea of how this goes. So I grabbed a piece of paper, drew a canoe, cut it out, and cut birchbark (of which I have a substantial amount from firewood splitting).
Behold, a pattern and likewise behold the skin. It was obvious that it wasn't going to bend. So I planed it down with my trusty palm plane (at left). At this point I decided, most unwisely, that I didn't need a canoe form. So I started sewing up the skin. As it turns out, this project is mostly needlework!
One of the main reasons you need a canoe form is that it holds the blasted thing while you do things to it. But here is Tip, now a canoe, being stiched. Ordinary needle and thread, because spruce root is obtainable but much too large for this tiny model. Sewing is quite tedious. Once Tip was stiched fore and aft, I made a start on the gunwales. There are two of them, one inboard and one outboard. I made the inner ones first:
These are actually lilac gunwales! Prunings from the lilac tree. I shaped them with knife and miniature planes, then boiled them for a few minutes, Above is the hull plan, which has now morphed into a canoe form. I then sewed the gunwales into the hull.In retrospect I should have been more patient and done the outboard gunwales before sewing; then I wouldn't have to sew twice. Learning experience. Note that I now do indeed have a canoe form. Well, let's do the outboard gunwales. They have a big bend at the bow. At this point the jigs started to multiply.
Here is lilac strip, planed, boiled and shaved so it will bend. The tools of the trade are scattered about; my idea of still life. Next step is to sew Tip's outboard to inboard gunwales. All this sewing requires a very small hole to be bored; you can't go through this stuff with a needle alone. I'm drilling about #35 Morse through two gunwales and one birchbark, using a jeweler's push drill; a marvellous aid to miniature work.
I started Tip on Monday; it is now Wednesday and here's Tip's status picture:

As you can see, the gunwales are in place. Bow to the right. I have started fitting the ribs. It is quite difficult to plane the ribs thin enough to fit in, even with boiling. I'm down to about a mm.

Tip is really not a model. Proportions wrong, for one thing. He is a test bed for construction techniques. It is much easier to build a model than a full size version, and it's -15C outside. Much too cold for a canoe. So I'm enjoying Tip, and will report as I go along.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Tool repair and Tool Make

I have all these projects that can't be shown. Expect a deluge after Christmas. I'll space them out. Meanwhile, with the house I got a wooden box with a partially carved lid. Inside were a bunch of cheapish carving tools. Now, sometimes these asiatic wonders are actually good steel; it is all roulette. But I paid nothing for them, so will they take an edge?
Yes, they will. Left to right, two tools from the microforge and Taig lathe -- more later. The third tool is microforged, from an oddly shaped thing in the box. It is now a V-gouge. It was quite difficult to make; getting a V shape into metal is not trivial. Furthermore, little pieces like Number three have no heat capacity. You get, as in baseball, three strikes and then you have to reheat. But eventually I did it. Further and furthermore, a propane torch will not get metal up to yellow heat, which all my books say you should do. I have to make do with "boiled carrot" -- bright orange. I may just try MAPP gas, although it is relatively expensive.

Anyway, all Numbers 4, 5, and 6 from the left needed was a good sharpening. I do this early in the morning, while I am still half asleep. That way it is soothing, rather than tedious.

On the far right is a knife made by Averky (there is a post, somewhere in here, about this episode). Taking advantage of a tool handle without a tool, I put a handle on it and le voilá, as the French say. I also did the edge for him. To his credit, he did a lot of the work. I think we tempered too hard. In the winter, I don't usually get kids. Too bad, in a way.

And so we come to the microforged tools. Both are made from a someone's junked screwdriver. I cut it in half and made a cold chisel out of one half and a pin punch out of the other. The cold chisel was forged; the pin punch I turned down on the Taig lathe, with some trouble because the piece was whippy. I couldn't do the job between centers because it was too short. I am only sorry I didn't take pictures, but I was much too absorbed to grab the camera, which was one meter away from the work. When you make tools out of scrap steel, you should make sure the steel is hardenable. Heat up to boiled carrot red, plunge in cold water (quench). If a file will skitter off it, it's hardenable. If the file cuts it, it's mild steel, no good for tools.

Making one's own tools is very, very satisfying. All you need is a scrap heap. Unfortunately the modern enviro craze has led to the demise of the good old junkyard. Too bad. However, plenty of people cast off perfectly good pieces of brass, copper and steel. You can make many a tool out of old valve springs, for example. Brass is harder to find lying about. I need a nice piece of 5 mm brass, about 26 mm long. Hmmmm....

Monday, November 8, 2010

Navajo Runner: Finito!

When last we heard of the Navajo ruglet, we were down to the steel rod. Taking a deep breath, I pulled it out. Time to finish up. We have lost all traces of shed, so the last Navajo trick is in hand. In the picture I am applying "finishing rows".

With the needle you go under one pair and over the next, left to right; coming back over and under the same pair. This is tedious; I got hand cramp about 5 mm from the top. As you can see, I use bright orange for warps. The objective is to make the orange color disappear. Eventually...
We finish. No orange, except for some added "corrective warps" where I missed sewing on to the stick. We can now take the piece off the loom. We must also tie the corner knots. We join the vertical and horizontal edges in the traditional corner (square) knot. If it doesen't have this it isn't Navajo.
You can see the upper-edge knots above. The lower ones get tied off when I get it off the loom. You have to unsew the cords that attach the edges to the sticks. But it is done! I'm pleased with it. It "waists" a little (pulled in towards the middle. My bible assures me that this is a feature, not a bug. It is the first piece I've made that I really, really like.

Next we will do "diamond twill" from the book. But I will give the loom a rest for a bit. My hands hurt!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The return of the Navajo loom

With the coming of spring, my Navajo loom goes into hibernation; I suppose estivation is a better word. But it is now winter and time to dig it out. You can go back to previous posts to see where it was. The first job was to finish the diagonal stripes. This took some doing but I did it.
The stripes are done. The heddle stick has been removed. It no longer works. The shed stick is still in place. Now it is time to weave up to the top. We keep the shed stick (the white piece of round plastic) in place as long as possible. This allows us easily go left-to-right; it is all blunt needle work, but just push it through the shed. The opposite way is much harder. You have to go in front of the front warps and around the back warps. No shortcucts in a Navajo loom. In a modern loom, of course, you have cloth "beams" that allow you to weave forever. But a Navajo loom is fixed-length. We deal with it. Takes us five minutes or less left-to-right (the way I weave) and about ten minutes to go back.
You can see the loops of the needle as I go back. I have replaced the plastic shed stick by a thinner shed stick. This allows me to go a few centimeters higher. Anything to preserve at least one shed! We're getting there....
This afternoon, I replaced the thin shed stick by a steel rod. Not very Navajo, but effective. Thanks to Rachel Brown's book. We are about done. After this it's weave all the way to the top, two-by-two. Remove rod and weave under two warps, over two warps. End game for sure.

You could always leave fringes at the end. No true Dineh weaver would even think of this. I may not be Dineh, but I respect tradition. To the top we will go., cost what it may.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

First Snow!

Very exciting. Also kinda late. But you knew it was coming, didn't you? This is Alaska, after all.
Very exciting. There is just enough to ski on. One centimeter. So out come the skis. My aching back is grateful. Walking is hard on my back. I could wish for a bit more snow, but all I have to do is be patient.

More moose antics

Got my batteries recharged and into the camera. Here is a moose called Forage, because he (or she, probably he because no offspring). He was trying to mow my lawn.
We must encourage Forage. After all, he could replace my lawnmower. Alas, moose don't go for grass. This is why you don't put hay out for them; they can't digest it.

On the other hand, there is no question about this guy:
Definitely the proverbial bull moose. I hope his rack falls off somewhere on my property. No name for Guy yet. Gotta be a repeat customer for that. Curiously, Guy was not alone. He had a companion, most unusual since bulls are solo creatures. The companion was ready for anything (in fact he kept charging Guy, who kept him at antler's length. You could almost hear him saying "go away, small fry!").

Classic moose defensive posture. Front legs spread, ears up and forward, general unfriendly posture. Get too near, he'll kick you to death. This, in fact, may be Forage. I was discombobulated by battery failure and can't remember the details.

The pictures are a little blurry. Sorry about that. Night was falling, and I did not have time to rig a tripod. Much less to turn off flash (useless at 30 meters or so). But blurry is better than none, say I, and publish the pix anyway.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Multitude of Moose

There have been so many moose nosing around the yard that I'm beginning to lose track. Unfortunately my camera has chosen this very moment, with an unprecedented moose event, to run out of batteries. Electronics, you have to love them. I am recharging as we post. But I can't even get yesterday's pix off the camera.

The unprecedented event, by the way, is a big bull, rack and all, accompanied by a Junior moose. I've never seen that! Bulls are usually loners. The exception is Ricky and Racky. Maybe the pictures will come out, maybe not. The Nikon God will decide. Stay tuned...

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Pot of Gold?

The other day I was returning from my daily walk when I spied a lovely rainbow. I walked 20 meters forward, to clear the ugly power lines, and it had faded in that little time! But I snapped it anyway.

Legend, presumably Irish, says that there's a pot of gold at the end of that rainbow. Nonsense, of course! But not in Willow. The town of Willow owes its existence to gold. Gold was found in Willow creek around the turn of the 19th century, and the town grew around the mining operations. Now, the claims are panned out and the town is a shadow of its once-booming self. This is true for almost every town in Alaska, including Juneau, the state capital.

But there is still gold in Willow creek. Not in commercial quantities! But you could probably turn up a nugget or two, or at least some flakes, if you knew where to pan. And how to pan. So there probably is some gold under that rainbow, if not a whole pot.