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.