Friday, April 30, 2010

Birdwatching, Alaska small plane style

Two days ago, I saw the first robin of the season, up on a spruce tree and chattering away. But the birds I'm posting about have engines and need airstrips!

Alaska has more small planes per capita than any other state. Here in Mat-Su county, there is a small plane for every 160 residents or so, a staggering number.
The reasons are obvious: few roads, lots and lots of state -- a million square Km or so, twice as large as Venezuela, for instance. There are lots of interesting lakes, cabins, "and etcetera" about, but the only way to reach these spots is by plane (or a grueling overland trek) so lots of people have planes.

And the other day I went to the Willow airstrip, to see what I could see.
The Willow airstrip facilities are spread out over at least 1Km, far too much for a panoramic shot. But this bay is typical. There was also a sprightly old gentleman:

No hangar queen, this one; while I was there it was fired up and off it went to get gas. I'm no expert on older stuff; it might be a Waco or Lockheed ca. 1930-1950.
Beautiful plane. Big radial engine with a wonderful low-pitched growly tone, unlike the tenor buzz of most of these putt-putts, as my father used to call them.
Anyway, as Mr Waco (or Lockheed, or whatever -- I will call him Mr Waco for the purposes of this post) went for gas, I followed him, on foot to be sure, and came to another bay.
Still some snow about! Anyway, Mr Waco is getting gas, and there are lots more planes. Here, for instance, is a real bush plane:

This a Piper Super Cub with enormous tires, called "Mickey Mouse tires" after the shoes worn by the eponymous cartoon character. If you fly into rough airstrips, these are mandatory; they prevent ground loops. Also note the pod under the plane; it allows this two-seater to carry some cargo. Many native villages get essential supplies from these little birds (can't land a jet at Ikikik, or Eek for short).

Eventually Mr Waco finished gassing up and returned to his parking place. I had hoped he would go shoot a few touch-and-gos, but no such luck.
Gorgeous plane. Anyway, I started thinking. How many airstrips are there (besides Willow, which has facilities such as tiedowns, hangars, mechanics, gas, and a few other things? Well, I can think of five within a 15 Km radius offhand. These are private airstrips. Here is a view of Windsox strip:

This is a Piper Cub, I believe; it is parked in the owner's back yard, which leads on to the strip. At far left, faithful Fido is guarding the plane; he barked like mad as I took the shot, but his tail was wagging furiously. Just doing his duty -- "you seem OK, but I must warn my owners! You might be the evil plane-wrecker! Woof!"

So I drove down to one of the ritzy neighborhoods, on Michigan Ave. and got a few more. This is one community where people commute to work -- by airplane.

As you can see, the strips are not clear yet; the plane furthest from the camera has skis on and could probably get out, but the rest will have to wait a week or so.

I tried a few other strips, but they were covered in snow, so further pictures will have to wait, like the airstrips.

Then in summer there are float planes. These can get into the remote lakes. Again we will have to wait -- the lakes are still iced up.

And I can now walk in my yard. Mostly. Time to start getting the wood in for next winter. This is the time to do it, not fall when it's wet. That way it has all summer
to dry out.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Blogger's perils

One of the perils of blogging is that most of this week I have been making presents; Christmas (never too early to start) or birthdays (idem). Well, you say, what's wrong with that? Show us what you did! But alas, all of the recipients of these things are reading this blog, which would ruin the surprise. See?

But fortunately, I had a visit from Averkiy today. And what did he want? A knife of his own, of course. I think he's old enough to have a small one (Bowie knives are out of my means, and beyond indoor forging!) Fortunately, he wanted a carving knife, so the Chalupy knife-forge operation swung into action. We used an old hacksaw blade (I collect them) and annealed, shaped, hardened, ground, and tempered his knife. Here is Averkiy grinding the teeth off his ex-hacksaw blade:

The Dremel-type tool is ideal for children; not as intimidating (nor as powerful!) as the powered grinders I have, but fast enough so they don't get bored. We got it handled, and partly sharpened (it cuts quite well even in its current state) and Averkiy went home happy. Here he is, a year before now, with his very own stick horse.
It must have been Sunday, because he's in traditional dress. I don't suppose jeans are traditional (I am given to understand that in modern Russian, we call them Dzhinzy) but you can't ask for the moon! So Averkiy has learned something. With a knife, you can make a stick horse (need something to bore holes with). Don't have a knife? We can make one! But JRC says he has to learn to sharpen knives. Lesson number three coming up. I must thank Nicola Wood, on Bodger's Forum, for the idea of stick figures. Great for kids.

Friday, April 9, 2010

A homemade rounder plane

Dowel-making, that is, taking a piece of wood and making it into a cylinder, is an age-old woodworking concern. Solutions to this problem range from the lathe to the dowel plate. A lathe, of course, is probably the best solution. If you want neat, precise, and accurate cylinders, why the lathe is your friend. But you have to (a) have a lathe (b) set up the piece for turning, and (c) turn the thing. Sometimes you want something simpler than that.

Several alternatives are possible. One is the dowel plate. This is a piece of metal with one or more holes bored through it. You take a piece of wood, hack it to the right size, and pound it through the plate. To get away with this, the plate has to be quite thick, 6mm or more; you have to counterbore the hole to leave a thin edge that actually shaves the dowel. Unless you have a drill press, making a clean hole in metal by hand is a formidable proposition. I have a dowel plate made this way.

Another time-honored method is the rounder plane, or stail engine. Here's my stail engine, newly made a week ago:
It is a piece of birch, about 20 cm long (it could be shorter) with a 1/2" (13mm) hole drilled through it. Tangent to the hole, it is cut away at 45 deg. (on the left) and 30 deg. (right). A blade, taken from a broken block plane, has slots cut into it and is screwed onto the block. To use it, cut your piece of wood so it goes into the hole. Turn the wood (or the plne itself), using the rounder plane/stail engine as a big pencil sharpener. It cuts a reasonably clean dowel; the sharper the blade the better.

With Mr. Stail, I finally got handles on my set of swiss-pattern files:
Well, there's one left; I ran out of branch stock! With this thing, you don't need to run to the hardware store to buy dowels. But you do have to keep a stock of branches to shave down.

Spring is coming, if slowly. That's when I cruise the roads, looking for branches that were cut down by the snowplow crews. Lots of free wood there.

Signs of Spring

Some say that Alaska has but two seasons, namely construction and winter. This is surely a harsh judgement. In reality we have the usual four, but winter lingers on a bit longer than, say, the lower 48 states. (Let us not exclude Hawaii. They have snow there too, you know. On the high mountains, to be sure, but it snows in Hawaii.) Anyway, we have signs of spring. In Alaska, this season is known as breakup, 'cause that's when the snow and ice relent and we know summer is coming. There are several signs of breakup. One is that the roads here start clearing up:
Above is part of my driveway (actually, it's a road. But if I want to get out in the winter, I have to plow it; the beneficient State of Alaska plows up to the school and that's it) and voila! The ground is visible. Somewhat like groundhog day. But the snow ain't gone yet!

Another sign of spring is my windowsill:
You see my transplants busily growing. There is enough light in March to start the seeds, and I do this faithfully. This window faces east and gets moring sun; my other window faces south; it, too has its quota of veggies. The big guys at the top shelf are zucchini. I will have to repot them soon -- but I'm out of potting soil, and the ground is frozen hard. No homemade potting soil possible. The shot is a classic backlight problem -- all the reflection from the snow makes exposure very difficult.

As I said before, the snow ain't gone yet.
This is the aftermath of an unpleasant incident in my own dirveway. Skidded, and had to pull my car out with a come-along (never, never, travel in an Alaska winter, or spring, without a come-along!). Fortunately a large tree was nearby as an anchor. Beware of hubris. There's snow yet -- and it can get you.

Friday, April 2, 2010

New Rug(let) taking form

Back at the Navajo loom -- time for an update.

Having finished the previous placemat, I pulled out all (well, many) stops and am going for a ruglet. It is a curious expression, "pulling stops," it refers to pipe organ playing, where a rank of pipes -- say, a diapason -- is controlled by a sliding lever called a "stop." I digress. This can't be called as placemat; it's too big. So I am calling it a ruglet.
This is a technique described in my book as "diagonal stripe." Forst, you weave some stuff in plain weave (tan in the pic) to give you a foundation. Then you put in a small triangle, in this case at the bottom left corner, in dark brown. Then you put a stripe on top, and another stripe... on top of this. Use "earth tones," says the book. Well, OK. As best I can. Look at it as a farm. The brown, plowed; the yellow, crop; the green, water and/or growing crops. We, too, are art interpreters.

You have to figure out, in advance, how this is going to go -- how many centimeters per pattern. When the first row of stripes is laid in, Ruglet looked like this:
Now an easy part, a row of plain weaving to separate the two sets of stripes I have planned (my plans for ruglet domination are almost complete, as Darth Spader would say). And, as of yesterday:
A momentous occasion in Ruglet's progress. You can see the dividing secton, but more importantly, the stripes on top are all the way across the weaving. Curious thing, diagonals: the right end (of the second set of stripes) is much closer to the top than the left. It is easy to make sheds at left, but very difficult on the right. Note how I have canted both sticks (shed stick and heddle stick) -- it makes it easier to have the sheds where you want them.

This rug is much easier than the last one. No lazy lines, no dovetails. I think it looks very handsome. (Hubris. Ha, lazy human! We, the Rug Gods, have some very unpleasant surprises in store for you!)

I will try to maintain the proper humble attitude.