Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Shinto temple, er, table.

The time has come,  the Walrus said, to make a table to support my grinders. I have two of them. I have far too much space in my hallway for a computer. It is currently held up by a door on sawhorses. Far too wide. So I decided to shorten it up and stick in a table wide enough to hold my wet and dry grinders. I had originally decided to use power tools on it. And of course I am using other people's offcuts, i.e. scrap. This means so-called "2x4 lumber." A few moments with a ruler will convice you that modern 2x4 are nowhere near that dimension. This is a way the lumber companies can get a little more lumber out of a log, at your expense. The modern 2x4 is something like 39mm x 88 mm give or take a whole millimeter. Convert it yourself if you want; I don't use RGU. But its not even a 2:1 aspect ratio.

Now my bandsaw will not take the 88mm width -- it is 3" or about  77mm. In retrospect there is a way around this; I could have "housed"  the joints -- but at that point I decided to build this thing by hand tools only. I am glad I did. I learned a great deal. Not the least, how to operate a Japanese ripsaw correctly. I am grateful to Roy Underhill on for some very useful tips. But I can now rip to within a half-millimiter over a 90 mm length. I could not do that when I started this project. Unfortunately I did not document it. I thought it was going to be a one-morning knockout project. I will have to do a future post on how to do these joints, this is really timber framing and a useful art to acquire. This is a lot like building a Shinto Temple. This is an art which requires master carpenters. No master, I, but at least I  learned something. I cut whole thing together piece by piece. When all was done I put it together. And it fit together.

Layout is 90% of the problem in timber framing. For this you need a very acccurate pencil. The Japanese use a bamboo brush, or sumisashi. I found out that a "Sharpie" thin marker works very well indeed, as long as you hold it properly against the square.The tip of the Sharpie is less than 1 mm wide.

I am really glad I did this the hard way, and I hope to do a post on how to cut these particular joints in the future -- since I did not document this project. Today I pegged these joints; hopefully I'll cover that in the future.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Garden, 2014, part 1 of ?

This post is long overdue. We started the garden early this year. Unlike last year, it was not wet. Last frost in late may, maybe around May 15th. Very favorable. First job is to fork up the soil. Some people use a tiller for this. This is essential for new rows, but for old rows I think  it is too violent. I use the old-fashioned spading fork. Then I spread manure, bought at Lowe's because I cannot generate enough compost. The  Alaska climate is, as we all know, very harsh. The   growing season is short -- and so is the composting season. My compost grows very slowly!  Anyway, the manure is mixed in. By hand. The result is nice, neat rows. No weeds, yet.

Then we put in the transplants. These have been sitting in the windowsills since early March.
I always cloche my transplants.Now cloche is a French word; it means "bell". The French, and later all European countries, used glass mini-greenhouses to get an early start on their veggies. These resembled bells; hence their name. Nobody makes them anymore; but on the other hand  there is an unlimited supply of transparent plastic, in my case old fruit juice containers. I run them through a bandsaw and slice off tops and bottoms. This protects the plants. I have seen frost on June 6! These pix were taken late May. If there had been a frost, my transplants probably would survive. They seem to like the cloches. It is almost time to remove their trainer wheels :). I always think I have far too many cloches, but I either break even or have too few. Drink more apple juice, JRC!

The rest of my stuff I start from seeds. I use my trusty Earthways seeder. I will have to do a post on this marvellous device. I was concentrating on what I was doing and did not get any pictures. Shame on me. The seeder saves days of handwork.

As I write some of the seeds are coming up. And I have been weeding already; dockweed is your deadly enemy. If you want to learn more about these techniques go read Eliot Coleman's books. He gardens in Maine, and that is almost as bad as Alaska.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Hephaestus -- a mini-furnace

I really should be posting on the garden, which is my main preoccupation at this time. But I'll do that later. Meanwhile, I would like to tell you about my mini-furnace. I did not invent this thing; I got it straight out of the internet. (Google on "soup can furnace".)

One of the problems with doing mini-blacksmithing as I do is that it takes quite a long time to heat up the work. Maybe five minutes to red-hot. After that it goes faster. Still, it is time and gas wasted. You are heating the atmosphere as well as your work. So I built Hephaestus, the tin can furnace.

 It could not be simpler. A tin can. In my case a roast beef hash can. Drill three holes. Mount it on some L-brackets. Fill the tin can with equal parts of sand and plaster of paris. Use a former (I used a broomstick and neglected to spray it with Pam) for the hole in the middle. But do oil your former. Any oil will do. The filler sets up in five minutes. I had to drill it out and then burn off the remaining broomstick remnants.Silly me.

You note the propane torch at the left. This fits in a hole you drill in the can. A spreader tip works better than a pencil tip. Fire up the torch and stick it in. It is amazing. It goes from zero to orange in under a minute! That is, you stick your steel piece into the furnace and light off. One minute later start forging. Amazing! Do use vise-grips on your piece -- it gets very hot indeed.

This thing really will save time and propane. But now it's time to garden, and I have no spare time. Next post I'll get into that.