Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Shaped planes, Part IV

After I did my last post, I reflected that the video I recommended goes by at warp factor five. Very fast. So I have decided to go step by step. This is my second practice molding. So we start with a scrap piece of wood left over from John's projects. We clamp it in the vise, and draw a picture on the end of the sort of molding we want. I have made this one up from scratch, but it sort of resembles the molding I cut in the previous post.
Now before you do anything else, flip the piece over in the vise and in the bottom of the piece, cut a rabbet. The purpose of the rabbet is to hold your painting. Here I am using the micro Veritas rabbet plane to do so. It cuts about a 6mm rabbet. About right. I have clamped a steel ruler onto the scrap piece of wood, AKA "stock" to guide the rabbet plane. If you don't do this your plane will wander. You will be upset. You will ruin your piece. Something thicker than a steel ruler would be better, because it will force you to hold the plane square to the work. I will call the tiny plane Peanut in what follows. When you plane a rabbet this small you spend as much time clearing shavings as you do planing. They clog up the tiny hole in the plane. But you do it. Now flip the piece over.
You can see the rabbet or rebate you have just cut, underneath at left. Now what we want to do is rough out the profile with rabbet planes. A rabbet plane cuts far faster than a shaped plane. A plow plane would cut even better. But this piece is about 20 cm long and the plow will not track properly. If I can, I use Big Daddy. This is the macro sized Veritas rabbet plane. He cuts big time. A joy to use. And he does not clog up.
Now, what are we trying to do? We have a continous curve in the profile. We obviously have to remove some wood to get there. Differing amounts of wood, depending on where you are in the profile. So we are trying to approximate the curve by staircase steps. Engineers call this a step function approximation. So I cut rabbets, guided by fences, until I come to the point where I cannot clamp the fence any more -- too irregular a profile. Forget about cutting rabbets freehand. Superman can do it. Most of us can't. At this point our molding looks like this:

I cheated a bit and used a flat plane (violin maker's plane in fact) to get a slope in the part to the right. But you can see the stair steps. Now we are ready to hollow out the big curve at the right. Break out your hollower.
Now plane out the hollow. Do not be too fanatic about your drawn profile. Your hollower has a fixed radius (10mm in my case) and your eyeball had another. Look at the thing. Does it look okay? Stop. Do not be afraid to hold the hollower at an angle, as I am doing in the above pic. Sometimes it cuts better that way. I have a lot to learn still. The rabbets you cut guided the hollower. Superman excepted, you need a guide for a shaped plane; the rabbet (or groove) provides it. So you cut straight and do not wander.

We have dug a lovely curved trench in our profile. Here it is:

It does not quite match the drawn profile. Of course it doesen't! One drew the profile by eye. The hollower has a fixed 10 mm radius. Miracle if they matched. Do not be concerned too much by this mismatch. It still looks nice and that's what matters. Now let's do something about the hills, having done the valleys. We break out the rounder plane. This has exactly the opposite curvature as the hollowers. All I have at this point is 10mm radius. The rounder looks identical to the hollower. (except for the bottom). It is a bear to sharpen. After I applied it I had something like this.

Needs some more work but is recognizable as a molding or picture frame. It was at this point that I realized that this business is just like carving. You are limited in carving by the sweep of your gouges, i.e. curvature. You are limited in in moldings by the radius of your plane. Sigh. It looks like I am into a whole new era of plane-making. Need some much narrower radiuses, say 5mm. To start. If I were in 14th century Florence I would have gone to Giuseppe the plane-maker and ordered up a bunch of radii. The bill, no doubt, would have been paid by Cosimo de Medici, who wanted some frames for his pictures. But here I am in Alaska, got to do the whole megilla myself. Cosimo de Medici nowhere in sight.

I did a bit of cheating and applied a violin-maker's plane (commercial) to the thing and got a perfectly decent molding. We are not there yet, but we make progress.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Shaped planes, Part III

In the shaped planes business we have now made two planes, a hollow and a round. The former is convex and the latter concave. Confusing, isn't it? But the object of all this is to make picture frames. Today I made a section of a frame in scrap wood. To see what I am aiming at, I urge you to watch a video.

I have been trying now for fifteen minutes to get this stupid editor to put in the correct reference, but is seems incapable of doing so; I add that this is not my first rodeo. So go to


Google, do you ever listen? Do you wonder why so many people are moving over to wordpress? Be warned. Your editor is awful.

Anyway, if you watch this video you will see how a real pro does it. Note all the planes he uses. Note the way he roughs it out before he applies the shaped planes. This is what I attempted to replicate.

So I found a piece of scrap pine, left over from some of John's projects, and proceeded to copy the video. I am quite pleased with the results.
It takes quite an arsenal of planes to do the frame, at the bottom of the picture. There are two commercial planes. Obvious in the picture, topmost and bottom-most. They are rabbet planes from Veritas, one about a 18mm wide, at the top of the pic. Very bottom is a tiny duplicate no more than 6mm wide. In the video the artisan uses a plow plane, but although I have one it is of no use in a piece this short, ohh 15 cm long. Fence won't track properly. I use it to cut grooves, as I would use a plow if only the fence would track. . Strange name, "rabbet." It is actually a USA corruption of the British name, "rebate." The bottom-most edge of the "frame" has been rebated (on the wrong side, too. This is why we do practice pieces). Purpose of the rabbet/rebate is to give you a shelf into which you put your priceless painting.

Then there are my two shaped planes. The hollower gave me a lot of trouble but it did, in the end, its job. I am going to have to remake the hollower. Well, live and learn. I made so many mistakes with the hollower that I can't begin to count. I think I will resort to a simpler design given in David Fink's book Making and Mastering Wood Planes (q.g.). It will use a much more rigid blade cut out of a circular saw blade. Different approach. Stay tuned.

But in summary I am quite happy. I have learned much. For one thing, if you had to make a real frame with four sides to it, your chances of getting exactly the same profile on all four sides, done independently, are nil. It will never match up. I will have to cut the profile in a piece of wood long enough to do the whole frame. Interesting. Of course you could do the sides and top/bottom in different profiles, but how do you match up at the corners? Lots of stuff to think about.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The raising of the snow splitter, part I

In the winter, snow accumulates on the Chalupy roof. Eventually it warms up and slides off. Some of it lands right in front of the front door, and then we have the glacier. It takes an ice axe and a lot of shoveling to clear it. So last winter we decided to build a snow splitter. This is simply a roof with a peak over the porch. The snow will be diverted and we will not have to shovel out half a meter of snow, and of course that snow has compacted and is very hard to shovel. Now I decided to use commercial lumber and hardware for this thing. I am in a rush to get it completed; winter comes all too soon.

Now the first job is to do some concrete piers to hold up the 4x4s that are the major part of the structure. So the dimensions are known, about a meter thirty for the width and three meters long. So we placed stakes at the corners.
In retrospect we should have used batter boards. Fortunately John has a very good eye, so our errors, while annoying, were not fatal. Then John dug a hole at each corner. We have but three corners to do; one post already in place. I hauled out my forms, which I had built when I saved the porch from collapse a couple years ago.
Here are the holes and the forms. Be sure to coat the forms with your used motor oil, on the inside of course. This makes it possible or at least easier to separate the forms after you've poured. The forms, obviously, go into the holes.But wait. It isn't that simple. You have to attach an upright to the pier. In my porch rescue I just jammed the upright to the top of the post, and shimmed it until the porch was somwhere near level. But here I can't do that. Hanger bolts to the rescue. A hanger bolt is a commercial device. It is threaded at the top, 5/8" diameter, about 18mm around. We will screw a hanger bracket to this. The bolt must be plumb. We held it in place by primitive means.
So I dumped a bunch of twisted steel strapping into the thing to act as reinnforcing. Need steel reinforcing for any concrete work. Go to Lowe's and get some premixed concrete. Add water and pour. It helps if the mix is just a tad soupy.
The bolt is not in the center of the form. Bad on us. Layout problems. Use batter boards next time. The bolt, by the way, is the reinforcing rod for the post. Now put the 4x4 form on top of this and pour again.
Now we can take off the forms. It requires a heavy hammer and a pry bar. But it can be done, especially if you oiled the form.

Now we screw hangers onto the bolts and drill holes in the posts to let the bolts clear. We can then raise the posts. Other hangers allow us to put in the cross-beams. So here's the structure as of today.
.Now we were interrupted many times by rain. Note all the steel hangers. This is much better than toenailing and saves time. We have the rafters to go. Very exciting. Never cut a rafter in my life. A race with winter as usual. Stay tuned for the next exciting episode.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Plane and fancy

This is a long overdue post. It begins with the fact that I got all wound up over carving after reading Chris Pye's book, Wood Carving, which you may google. Then this morphed into a project of John's, namely making custom picture frames for his paintings. My job is making the frame. Now you may go to the Home Despot and buy commercial moldings and make your frames out of that if you wish. But I soon realized that I would have to make the moldings myself. And I refuse to use a router. So it's back to basics. Let us build shaped planes and use them to shape the moldings on which we will do carvings, out of which we will build frames! Really unwinding the Industrial Revolution.

Back in the pre-router days, people used planes to make moldings. They had all kinds of elaborate shapes. I wanted to start simply. So I decided to make a hollow and a round. One cuts a hollow, the other makes a round out of a raised piece. Now I have made some miniature planes but this is real stuff. Tough. First, you have to make a blade. The blade is the crucial part of the plane. I used an old rusty crosscut saw for the purpose. In retrospect it was much too flimsy. But hindsight is wonderful.

I started out with the rounder. This is a concave blade, an upside-down U.
First problem is to find your raw material. Maybe a circular saw blade. I used a handsaw blade, but I think a circualr saw blade would be better. I cut it roughly to shape, with a hacksaw, and I started out with full metalworking equipment, the milling attachment on the Taig. At least I got the bottom of the thing milled out flat.
But there was no way I could cut a semicircle with the mill. I do not have a rotary table! Nor yet a cutter of exactly the proper radius. So, when you have to cut shapes out of metal, you resort to drilling:
Since I am drilling a semicircle, I stuck a steel pin in the backing board at the proper radius. It fits into a hole in the proper point of the proto-blade. This, at least, ensures you are drilling on the radius of a circle. Do not move the backing board. Clamp it, preferably. You are trying to drill overlapping holes. Then cut off any webs and clean it up with files. At this point I decided to give it a preliminary grind, as I usually do with my hand-made tools.
Terrible mistake. You should not use a flat grinder to sharpen a curved tool. I do not know how Tormek & Co. do this, but their grinder just ground me flat! I ruined the blade.

So I took a deep breath, said some unseemly things in several languages, and decided to make a hollowing plane instead. U-shaped. The iron for this was made exactly the same way as the previous one, but when it came time to grind, I rotated the blade. I made a jig for the purpose. I also use the jig to sharpen gouges. Don't have a picture of this (yet) but it's just like sharpening a gouge, only the blade is flat. At last a nice edge. So I hardened and tempered. I will soon post something on this. And I had a semicircular plane iron, only shaped U instead of upside-down U.

So now we have to make a body for the plane. We are making the Krenov plane style. It is a laminated thing, you saw off the middle and glue it back again. I have been here before and will not repeat it. But here are the pieces of the plane.
Here we have the iron, the sawn-put cheeks, and the middle part, sized to take the iron. We have simply drilled a hole to let the chips escape. The middle part is shaped for a wedge, to hold the iron in. For the record the dimensions are 145 x 50 x 23 mm. The 23 mm is a curious number, it must be something in inches, but I don't do inches.

Observant readers will note a terrible mistake. I did not drill registration pin holes when I sawed it apart. I paid very dearly for this mistake. Almost as bad was the fact that I did not draw layout lines on the outside of the body. When it came time to cut the throat opening of the plane, I cut my own throat. So put down layout lines on the outside -- it saves infinite trouble. You must cut the throat at the smae angle as the bedding angle (45 deg) . In the end (OK, confession is good for the soul) I used plastic wood to remedy my mistakes. Here half a millimeter is crucial. No big deal to cut the throat; but cutting at the proper angle is another matter. You want a very, veye, narrow throat on these things. It has to shave, and the throat opening roughly equals the thickness of the shaving you will take.

Now on to the rounder. I cut a block of wood exactly like the previous one. I remade the blade. It is still in a rough stage. But the curvature is right. Exactly the same radius as the hollow. So now we can use the hollow to shape the rounder.

Note the plastic wood infill on the hollow. But it works. It planes. It is not as smooth as I would wish. I need a fence to keep the hollow straight. It needs a thicker iron. But it planed down the sole of the hollow.

I used a circular rasp at the end, and sandpaper wrapped around a piece of pipe at the end. But the rounder has a nice shape. A few flaws. They are correctable. This time I remembered to drill registration holes. Oh yes, andI have sawed the back end of the hollower to a curve. Else it digs into your hand. Live & learn.

It is time to saw the thing apart. I can hardly wait to make an ogee, q.g. If circles cause all this much toil, I wonder how I will do the ogee. Stay tuned.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The making of a gouge, Episode I

Warning. This is a how-I-do-it post. It is a tutorial on how to do something. If you are not interested in actual craft work, you can skip this post. I will not be in the least offended.

What I intend to do in this post (and in fact at least one more) is to show you how to make a small gouge out of a hacksaw blade. Now, why would you want to do this? Simple. When you are carving out curves, you need a gouge of the same curvature as the detail you need to carve. Real carvers call the curvature a "sweep." OK, I have some gouges, all made here, but none of them will handle the curvature in the current project. So it's time for a new gouge. It must be rather shallow. So I set out to make one. First, the setup.
We have a pair of small vise-grips, a small hammer. It is a Warrenton pattern, a very useful pattern, because it has a flat head and a sort of chisel-like head, called a cross-peen. Also I have a a 50+ mm vise, (note the flat surface behind the vise; it's my anvil), a propane torch (invisible but off to the right; it's set up about 20 cm above workbench level) and a piece of tile on which to put red-hot objects. Do not set your workbench on fire! Now you need a piece of hacksaw blade. It does not need to be new, old and worn is just as good and really, really cheap. Like free. Our specimen is about 10 cm long. You can see it clamped in the vise-grips. Also in the picture, a plastic container with water in it. It is called a quench tub. It will reappear in Episode II, but ignore it for now.

So your first job is to anneal the hacksaw blade piece. This means, heat it up to carrot color. This will take all the spring out of it and that's just what you want. So hold it in the vise-grips, light off the propane torch and get the blade red hot.
Orange hot is better, and yellow better still, but this is a very small piece of metal and your heat source is very concentrated, and only about 600C. So you compromise. Heat it up, "red" hot will do, about two cm at a time. Then let the whole thing cool. After you have done so, it is time to grind off the teeth on the hacksaw blade.
As you can see, I use a Dremel-Type Tool (DTT) with a grinding wheel mounted. The DTT is held in a home-made stand. You could of course use a bench grinder. Or even a belt sander. Or a file. Whatever you do, get those teeth off! Otherwise your masterpiece will crack. Just where you don't want it to; Murphy is hovering over your shoulder as you do this.

Now we come to the fun part. We have to shape this animal. The front part of the blade must be shaped to a rather shallow curvature. What radius? Depends on the carving. This is up to you. The rear part must be completely folded in two, just as you would fold a sheet of paper in two. The folded part will be the shank of the gouge. Anyways, I have to start a curve in the work. My current method is to use a small machinist's V-block.

A bona fide blacksmith would use a swage for this. But I do not pretend to be a real blacksmith, just an artisan in search of a gouge. Now the above is a posed picture (I only have two hands). It illustrates the process, though. In practice I clamp the V-block in the vise. I heat the gouge boiled-carrot orange. This color will recur so often that I will abbreviate it as BCO. Quick as you can, transfer your gouge to the V-block and tap with the cross-peen of the hammer. Right in the middle. You will thus put a curve into your piece. It will take more than one "heat" to do this. The piece will cool off in about ten seconds. No mass, you see. You don't have much time to tap it before it is cool. So you do the whole length of your piece this way. Once I have started the curvature, I resort to long-nose pliers and start squeezing.

The object is to fold the upper part of the blade in two. It is the shank of the tool. Do not worry if it is warped at this point; just get it folded. Heat to BCO as often as you have to. Squeeze it! Also do not worry if it is twisted, bowed, or otherwise distorted. We can fix all that later. Just get the blasted thing folded. Then straighten it out. Here's what we're aiming at:
In order to do this I had to unwarp, unbow, and flatten. For this, it's heat it up to BCO, pound it on the anvil, heat it up to BCO again, use the pliers to unwarp it, ... and so on. It will take quite a number of heats. I cannot predict which way steel will warp and neither can anyone else. We have no complicated machinery at our disposal. But by George (II? III... VI?) we have a gouge blank, with a bit of work. I am into something like an hour and a half worth of work at this point; YMMV.

At this point the gouge might work on soft butter. It's almost time to heat-treat it. This will be the second episode in this drama. But before we do that I find it convenient to put a preliminary grind on the edge. At one time I did this with the Dremel-Type tool. No longer. Once I built the angulometer (see a previous post) I do it on my wet grinder, or TSO (Tormek-Shaped Object).
Now, gouges, chisels, and plane blades need a 25 deg angle. What I have done here is improvised a handle for the tool. Not, to be sure, the final handle. I am using this in a homemade jig to set the angle to 25 deg, aided by my angulometer. I grind up the first approximation to a 25 deg bevel. Next, I have to heat-treat this tool. But that will have to wait; this post is already too long. I really, really recommend wet grinders. They do not ruin tools, which a dry grinder will do at the drop of a hat.

One last item. When you sharpen a gouge on a grinder, you must rotate it. You can't just let the grinder go by itself -- that would put a flat in your gouge. So you gently rotate the gouge as the wheel turns. That way you get a nice even grind.

Enough! See Episode II for more. Coming soon at a blog near you.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

How many weeds in a garden?

As I have remarked before, while (some) vegetables grow to enormous proportions in Alaska, so do the weeds. So weeding is a constant chore. All my weeds wind up on the compost pile so nothing goes to waste. Composting, by the way, has its own Alaska twists; I must post on that sometime. Anyway, the results of the last weeding went into the Darthcartt, my homemade garden cart. Here are the results.
Now this is after the weeds had a week to compactify, as the String Theorists in Physics say. I weeded today and filled the cart brimful. The Darthcartt is one meter square exactly. The sides are perhaps 30 cm. So maybe a third of a cubic meter. That's an awful lot of weeds. Just for a comparison, a cubic meter of water weights a tonne (that's a metric ton, for the metrically challenged; close enough to the Avoirdupois ton for practical purposes). Of course weeds are not as dense as water; good thing too or I would break even the sturdy Darthcartt. Today I pulled some turnips. They were enormous. I'll report on them soon.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Melting metal at Chalupy

First of all, this is not my project. It is all John's doing. Second of all, what you will see is not entirely as safe as turning on your kitchen stove. It can be dangerous. In these litigious days be very careful and wear proper safety gear, blah blah. Consider yourself warned. Chalupy Acres disclaims all resposibility, blah blah.

What we are doing is melting Aluminum to (eventually) make castings. Before you do this for yourself, you must read the sources. We acknowledge hereby these sources. The first and most inspirational is the late lamented Dave Gingery's "Build your own Metal Working Shop from Scratch" series, 6 volumes. The first is The Charcoal Foundry, all available from Lindsay Publications. From the same source get Lionel Oliver II's The Flowerpot Crucible Furnace. Very cheap stuff, I may add.

Finally get on the net. Go to Myfordboy's blog; it should appear on the sidebar on this blog. Select his channel on YouTube. There are 30 videos (as of today) on casting; you should watch them all.

OK, on to melting metal. John built the forge. We started out with the idea of a Gingery/Oliver smelter. This runs off grocery store charcoal, the kind you use to barbecue steaks.
The basic forge involves (1) a 5 gallon Kerosene drum, main part of the thing (2) a clay flowerpot. This is imbedded in a concrete lining. The concrete is just Home Depot (or was it Lowe's?) standard stuff. There is a hole cut through all this. A piece of galvanized pipe goes through it all. In forge-speak, this is called a tuyere, the french word for "piping". A hair dryer, long defunct, provides air. With this setup you can melt Aluminum. John soon found that the Dragon Lady is a far preferable substitute. The Dragon Lady has appeared on these pages before. She is a heavy-duty propane torch bought from Harbor Freight for $13 back when. She melts snow, clears out weeds, starts charcoal fires. As it turned out we could have dispensed with the charcoal.
John is very happy. Aided by the Dragon Lady he has melted Aluminum. Lovely stuff, melted Ally. Looks like silver or perhaps like Mercury. The big pipe holds a stainless steel spoon, used to skim off the dross. This is junk, impurities you do not want. Today John will pour Aluminum cupcakes; we are not yet into making real molds.
John added common salt as a flux (makes things flow) and baking soda as a degasser. About a teaspoon each. Very effective and thank you Myfordboy. We are using fireplace tongs to hold the crucible, the container in which you put the metal. This I found long ago at a thrift store for two bucks. It is a plumber's pot originally meant for melting lead. A bit more close to the pouring process we have

At the end of the road we have taken some literally castoff Aluminum-- it was stuff I found by the roadside on a bike ride and went back and salvaged. We produced two cupcakes -- as I have said we are not yet up to casting into molds -- each weighing about 100 grams. Ten cupcakes to a Kilo. The potential is endless. John wants to make the Gingery Lathe. Refer to the sources.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The tablesaur (er, tablesaw) project

This is a strange post. I meant to do it on the garden. But life, as Robin Wood says (see his blog in the sidebar), got in the way. Now as readers of ths blog must know by now, I hate power tools. But I do a lot of metal work. And of all the aspects of metalwork I hate, cutting pieces if metal to shape is probably number one. You must, you see, use the hacksaw. A hacksaw works, and very well, too. But it is slow. Sometimes exasperatingly so. There are (ah, the Devil tempts you) alternatives. One alternative is an angle grinder. I do not own such an object. I do, however, own three powered circular handsaws. Well, one was given to me. Another was so cheap (under ten bucks) at a thrift store I couldn't pass it up. Ditto the third. So on one of these saws, a Makita in brilliant red, I attached an abrasive cutoff wheel. It is an excellent way to cut metal, but it is totally un-maneuverable. Makita-san has no blade guard (that's why he was so cheap) but that does not bother me. Only trouble is it is difficult to use, because you have to figure out how to hold the work somehow while you saw it.. Or grind it. Or whatever it is an abrasive cutoff wheel does.

So yesterday I had an idea. If I mounted Makita-san like a tablesaw, I would have both hands free . I happen to have some use for discarded circular saw blades. Can't say what it is, because recipients are reading the blog, alas. I need to cut up these blades, and Makita-san in tablesaw mode would do the job. So I went out to the shop. It was raining cats and dogs, or, as they say in Venezuela, raining palos de escoba y capuchinos de bronce, broomsticks and bronze capuchins (bronze capuchins: very heavy). No day for a walk, much less a bike ride. So in about an hour I had improvised a table saw.
What I did is take a found board, cut a slot in it, drilled (matching) mounting holes in the saw and the table, and bolted the saw to the board. Hard part is drilling holes in the saw, it is metal and hard to drill. Got to step-drill. Start out 3mm and work up to 6mm+ for 1/4"-20 hardware store bolts. Must countersink bolts on top surface. Circular saws have all sorts of obstructions to this program. There are pieces of saw sticking up just where you would like to put a bolt. The board is clamped to my trusty counterweighted Workmate. This thing has about 50 Kg. of logs added to it, so it will not tip, rotate, or walk off. From below it looks like this:
The strange-looking stick going off to the left is used to depress the trigger on Makita-san. A poor man's on-off toggle. I have since cut it off to a more reasonable length, say 30 cm. It would be nice if Makita-san had a trigger lock. But he doesen't. Note the heavy wood piled across the workmate. This makes the whole thing possible. 50 Kilos is not too much at all. Else the Workmate will tip over.

The hard part of all this is drilling the holes through metal and drilling matching holes in wood. My procedure is now to drill the metal first. From underneath, the sole of the saw. But (a) be sure and center-punch the hole (b) make sure you drill in a spot that is not occupied by some essential feature of the saw. Not as easy as it might be. You have to get a nut on the bolt, remember? If you can't get at the bolt it is a waste of time to drill. (c) Step-drill. Then set the saw in place and use it as a template to drill holes in the wood. Align it carefully with a centerline mark. Countersink these things from the top side. Bolt it in, and Robert est votre oncle. Clamps all the rest of the way.

Today, aided by experience, I went out and made another board just like the one shown here. This is the "wood tablesaw". Just like the one shown here, only with another saw. This will be used for wood. My son will use it far more than I will.

At least, as of this writing, it has stopped raining.