Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Snnowed under

On Saturday last week it started to snow. I came out Sunday morning and beheld the ensuing mess from my front porch.
Now most of this mess is due to snow sliding off the roofs. This forms an enormous snowbank. If you look carefully at the above picture, you will see two separate banks. One is caused by snow sliding off the house roof. That is the one immediately ion front of you. Further back, snow has come off the shop roof; that is the second snowbank. It is almost as high as the shop eave!

There is a more pressing problem, however. It is getting out of here! Looking out to my car, we are presented with the following problem:
Viz., and to wit, we can't get out of the house without wading er, waist-deep in snow. Wouldn't want to use vulgarity in this blog. So we have to do something about it. In the previous image you can just see the car, faithful Vicky, buried up to her, er, armpits in snow. A closer-up(thanks, zoom lens) may be interesting.
Now how much snow is this? And how do we get out of it? Let me give you a clue. A snowblower can accomplish wonders. But the only way off my porch is with a shovel. Snowblower can't deal with the hills. It just rides up and gets stuck. And I have the biggest snowblower Home Depot could supply, and in retrospect maybe I should have gotten it tracked, not wheeled. Hindsight is wonderful. So shovel I did. I was throwing the stuff almost two meters over my head. Exhausting.

Now, as to how much snow: when it was all over I dug my way down to the packed stuff. I got 40 cm of new snow. Now I understand very well that by some standards this ain't much. East coast gets 60 cm to 1m regularly. But on the East coast the stuff melts! But iin Alaska it is here till breakup! Well, 40cm is a foot and some for RGU fanatics.

The next task is to blow out the driveway. We have a real problem with Horatio Snowblower. We suspect a blockage somewhere. Maybe a gas line; I checked what passes for an air filter (dust in winter is not a problem) and it is clean. It is running anemically. But John was still able to blow out the driveway, a major feat.
Glad I didn't have to do it myself! So at the end of the day we were OK. Our porch is a little snowed in. But we can get into the house (and out, just as important).
The handle of our faithful shovel visible in the foreground. This, however, is not the end of the story. Today John got stuck trying to back in to the driveway. So we tried my faithful come-along. Broke the come-along! The ratchets would not hold! Cheap asiatic come-along. But it got me out of many a tight spot. I regret its passing. New come-along in the future. However, by digging and more hard work, John came unstuck. So we can get out if we have to.

Ah, the perils of bush Alaska. But if you don't like to deal with these problems, you probably would be much happier elsewhere.
Meanwhile we can enjoy a fire.Nice way to end an exhausting day.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Treadling away

Polecat, the faithful mini-bungee lathe, is by now a veteran. I have turned half a dozen tool handles; in fact I am in the happy situation of having more handles than tools! But, as always, there are clouds on my bright horizon. The treadle arrangement, i.e. the unreconstructed mop handle, is atrocious. The mop handle slips imperceptibly backwards, so pretty soon your treadle is horizontal and won't treadle. Time to do something about this.

A trip to the shop -- braving the rigors of the Alaska winter -- yielded a nice piece of 2x6 and some scrap board say 25mm, so I contructed a treadle holder. A bit of bandsaw work, a steel pin as hinge, and behold, we have a treadle. I have retained the faithful mop handle, because in the winter it is hard to find any wood. All buried under 1.30 meters of snow.
Next to the treadle is a piece of truck or car inner tube, found providentially on my back porch. This puppy, contact-cemented to the 2x6, keeps the treadle from migrating backwards. I had to cross-drill the steel pin and insert finishing nails to keep the pin from slipping out. A mere detail. Took longer to cross-drill the holes than it did to build the whole thing! Cross-drilling is no joke. It is precision work. It is all too easy to drill anywhere but through the diameter. So here's the tout ensemble:
The inner tubing works fine on my hard kitchen floor. Treadle doesen't slide. Now we can turn for real.

N.B. When I first posted this on bodger's forum, Gavin wondered about chafing. Spot on, Gavin. Cord wore out today. But I got a lot of handles out of it. Now to find a cotton clothesline. One in the shop; can't get to it. Too much snow; door blocked. The perils of bush Alaska.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Turning on the pole lathe

In our last post we had a pole lathe clamped in a vise. We now have to arrange the return mechanism. But at that point I got an idea. Why not clamp it in a workmate? After all, a workmate is a vise (among other things).
This is the back side of the thing. Not the one the turner sees. OK, now we have to arrange the power train. There is a cord, seen above, which passes around the workpiece. At the lower end it attaches to a treadle, which in my case is an old mop handle. I will have to improve it, but it works as is. At the other end, the cord is tied to a common or garden bungee.
I should have rotated the picture 90 deg ccw!

The ultimate power source is your leg. You push the treadle with your foot. The workpiece rotates. You apply the tool. At the bottom of the stroke, relax your foot. The bungee restores the workpiece. Do not cut during the return stroke, the piece is rotating the wrong way for that. Repeat.

What I am doing in the first picture is called "roughing to cylinder." I am making a rough cylinder out of the piece of branchwood I have set up between centers. This is the hardest part of the whole operation. The piece may look like a cylinder to begin with, but it ain't so. You have to go very gingerly until it is a more or less real cylinder, centered on your, er, centers. Be careful with the screw adjustment. too tight, workpiece hard to spin. Too loose, it flies off. Bummer. A little oil on the points helps a lot. Canola works fine.

Once we have the thing cylindrical, we can start shaping it. I stick with the gouge at this point. I am making a handle for a chisel and I am tapering down the business end of the handle. Thanks to John for the pic, I cannot turn and take pictures at the same time.
The cord rubs on the lathe, not a good idea. I now use a different "lead" (thanks to Gavin on Bodger's for pointing this out) but it did the job at the time. A close-up of the process:
I use two hands for all my turning. One near the toolrest and the other on the handle. The angle at which you hold a gouge (or any other tool is critical. On a gouge you start out with the bevel just rubbing the work. Then you raise the handle ever so slightly. Off comes a beautiful long shaving, if you did it right. If you didn't it may scrape or it may dig in. It takes some practice.

There are other tools you can use. The next most important tool, after a gouge(s) is the skew chisel. Then a ladyfinger gouge. I'll get to those anon.

And I have my revenge on the workmate lathe. You could easily make the bed longer. My bed was limited by the scrap piece of 2x4 I had at hand. All 2x4 scraps are now buried under a meter of snow. You could vary this lathe a lot. But I have achieved my objective, turning a tool handle on a workmate-clamped lathe. Could even clamp it in a bench vise. And finally give credit where credit is due. The original vise-mounted "pole" lathe is due to Jennie Alexander at

The lathe now has a name. It is called Polecat.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A small Pole Lathe

Of all the machines known to man, a pole lathe has to be one of the oldest. Technically a pole lathe is a reciprocating lathe. It consists of a bed of some kind, two uprights called poppets, and a pair of (nowadays) steel centers. The workpiece is put between the poppets, on the centers. A cord is wound around the workpiece, attached, originally to a long springy pole. To the other end of the cord, we attach some kind of pedal or treadle. You push down on the treadle. The workpiece rotates. You relax foot pressure on treadle. The springpole (in my case, merely a bungee cord) makes the lathe rotate backwards. You do not cut while it does so. Here is a picture of my bigger pole lathe.
Some time ago, a year or so past. I attempted to make an indoor pole lathe. The idea was that it would clamp into a workmate. The workmate is the greatest British invention since the steam locomotive, and its inventor is deservedly very rich.
Alas, this did not work. The main reason for failure was that all the struts and assorted junk in the workmate interfered with the treadle.

Well, as readers of this blog know, I practically live over in Bodger's forum, a place devoted to greenwood woodworking. There was a recent post there on somebody who was interested in a small "pole" lathe that would go into the end vise of a carpenter's workbench. Inspired by this post, I decided to make a small bungee-lathe that would clamp in a vise. It would be long enough to do tool handles, no more, since that was the purpose of the post above. So I dug through my box of odds and ends and came up with a 2x4 offcut found somewhere, and a survey stake ditto, 2x2.

Now a pole (or for that matter the most expensive CNC-capable lathe on the market) has two poppets. In modern parlance these are called stocks. The headstock, which sits to your left as you face the lathe, is fixed. The right-side poppet is the tailstock and it can move back and forth somehow, to accomodate variable-length workpieces. So out of the 2x4 I made the bed of the lathe. Out of a piece of 2x2 I made a tailstock. adstock. I cut a slot in the bed to accomodate the tailstock. Easy way to do this is to drill a hole and then rip down with my trusty ryoba saw. You need to be very, very, careful to rip in a straight line. Here are the first two pieces:
There's the bed and the tailstock. Notice that the tail on the tailstock is quite long. Why? Later. Then we make a headstock out of the 2x2.
Later we will dowel this thing in place. No glue for us bodgers. Next thing is to make up some sort of tool rest. A tool rest allows you to, er, rest your tools on it while you turn. I carefully cut some thin slots in the remaining 2x2 and screwed them into the lathe. For the actual tool rest I used a piece of hardware store steel, about 3mm x 30 cm, cut off with a hacksaw.

Next order of affairs is to make the centers that support (indeed dig into) the workpiece as it is turned. So I had some steel rod. Classically, the points should have a 60 degree angle on them. So I made me a 60 deg template, put some 3/8 (about 3mm) rod in the Taig lathe and filed to shape. As the lathe turns -- there was a soap opera to this theme long ago. I don't own a compound slide for the Taig. The tailstock center came out of some ditto threaded rod I happened to have. The dimensions of these centers is totally non-critical. Anywhere from 4 to 8 mm. So now I had some kind of lathe. I clamped it in a vise, got out a gouge, spun the thing by hand, and let's see what happened.Very encouraging. The reason you want a screw on the tailstock, by the way, is that you have to adjust it as you turn. I wound up tapping the hole in the tailstock with a metal tap! Now we have to arrange the "pole" part of this thing, i.e. the return mechanism. I will leave this for episode II.
Now you see why the tailstock is so long. There is a hole drilled through it and a peg is jammed into it. This keeps the tailstock from going off down the slot.

Next episode, we actually turn something with thls contraption.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Inkle Loom, the sequel

[Finally straightened out this post. I plead extenuating circumstances.]

Google sometimes seems like a diabolical organization. I have spent a whole lifetime dealing with computers. Dear Google, would you please stop trying to help me? I am tired of your "outdated browser" messages. That's a rant for another day. Let us return to something more interesting, like Inkle looms. In my last post I described an Inkle loom,and showd the starting of the warping process. Here we learn how to weave on an Inle loom. To begin, you need a pattern, found in any Inkle loom book and probably all over the internet. So here's an Inkle loom all warped up.
It is really very simple. You alternate heddle (the string loops) which go to the H peg in the pic, and open strings, which go to the peg marked O. Notice that in the picture, there is a triangular space between the tension peg and the the heddles. That is called a shed in weaverspeak. All looms have at least two sheds. You could call them left-to right and right-to left, or even A and B. However, the inkler's terminology is something like Heddle and Open sheds. What you see above is the heddle shed. We need to show you the open shed, and this you make with your hand, like this:
Notice that the warps that were formerly "up" are now down. All I did was push up on the threads that go to the O (for Open) peg. Now we are ready to weave. But first, you need a couple of appliances.
Above you see the business end of the loom, the one the weaver sees. You can see the tension nut and its washer. Loosening the nut allows you to move the tension bar back and forth, setting the tension of the warp. On top are two gizmos. One is the shuttle, which is wound up with thread of the same color as the border of the warp (brown, in this case). The other I call the popsicle stick. I suspect weaver-ese is a beater. It looks exactly like a popsicle stick, but I made it myself out of birch. You lose no points for using an actual popsicle stick. I use it for beating (tell you what that means in a minute) and holding sheds open in the face of collapse. OK, we are ready to weave. Decide which way you want to go. I always go left-to-right on the heddle shed. These directions can be reversed, left for right and heddle for open. So I have the heddle shed. Now pass the shuttle through the (heddle) shed, left to right as you face the business end of the loom:

This is known as "making a shot." Now, make the open shed by pushing up with your hand, see above. Go back with the shuttle in the opposite direction, right-to left.
Now you have to "beat down" the threads. For this, I use the popsicle stick. What you do with it is to push on the shot you just took until it lies as close as you can get it to the previous shot. Picture a little fuzzy; pressed shutter too soon, not about to do whole strap over again!
And that is all there is to it. Make a shed. Pass shuttle through. Beat down. Make the opposite shed... ad nauseam. There are some caveats. Sometimes the warps will decide to stick together and not go to their proper place. Looking at the loom sideways you can detect these evil threads and push them to their rightful place. After a few shots, you have built up a few centimeters of weave.
So you just keep going until the belt is a as long as you want. You can weave all the way up to the heddles. I seldom do. When you have gone some ways, simply pull the weaving back towards you. The warps just slide around the pegs. Might have to relax the tension to get away with this. Tension is a difficult thing to gauge, you have to experiment. Depends on the thread material. When you start out, my advice is to use synthetics. They take a lot of abuse and have bright colors. Just the thing for learning. They don't stick the way other materials do.

This post has been, as they say in Latin, a via crucis. I could rant on laptop keyboards. But I won't, and wish you happy inkling.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Inkle Loom

You have no idea how relieved I am to be posting this. I am having computer problems. I'm doing this on a laptop. I hate laptops. But if I go off on this subject I will be here all night. On with the show.

An Inkle loom is a device for weaving long narrow pieces -- belts, straps, or runners. My father made one and used it to make belts. I learned out of Inkle Weaving by Helen Bress, but there are others, q.g. An Inkle loom is an extremely simple piece of gear.
This particular loom is about about a meter and a half long, but this is totally unnecessary for most work. About 60 cm will do you for most purposes. For the purposes of this discussion you can forget everything to the right of the second upright 2x4. As you can see, it is all 2x4s and dowels, or pegs. There are three indispensable pegs. Two of them are marked "H" and "O" in the pic. The other one has a bunch of strings dangling from it. It is called the heddle peg, and the loops of string are called heddles. The other pegs are there to make long pieces. At the left is the tensioning arrangement. It is a piece of wood with a bolt screwed into it, and a nut, out of sight. It allows you to tension the weaving properly. Tying up the loops of string, or heddles, is a major nuisance but you do it only once.

You do not have to be a cabinetmaker to build this thing. Just a 2x4, a drill, a saw and some dowels. The dimensions are really immaterial. Only moderately difficult thing is cutting a long slot in the horizontal 2x4. Drill some holes and cut out the intervening material with a keyhole saw (which I did) or if you have a router, why just rout the slot.

OK, Houston, we have a loom. Now, how to use it? You could consult the internet, or read a book (which I advise) but here's weaving 050 -- remedial level. In weaving, there are long threads and cross-threads. The long threads are called warps. The cross-thread is called the weft. The first job in Inkle weaving, is to warp your loom, i.e. tie on the warp threads. This is straightforward -- in fact trivial -- but it is really tedious. Here's the start on the warping procedure.
There are two warps in this drama. The leftmost goes through the heddle. It then goes up to the heddle peg, the one marked "H" in the first pic, and around enough pegs for the length you are expecting to weave. The next warp goes direct to the peg marked "O" for open, and back again to the tensioner. I made a dreadful mistake when I did this warp. The warp, on its return, must pass under the heddle peg. I had to do this all over again. Eventually I got it right. Now I haven't told you how to weave. Coming soon, but meanwhile, the product in progress.
We are weaving a strap for the cell phone case we posted earlier. Stay tuned.