Thursday, August 26, 2010

Projects, projects, and things to do

Well, school starts today, and I know from past experience that for the next three weeks or so it will feel like I've accidentally stepped in front of a fast moving train. Run, Susan, run!

However, I am resolved to continue working on the book I began this summer, so I'm going to try to hew to a schedule of writing in the morning and going in to school in the afternoon (I have all afternoon classes). Evenings will be for class prep and wine drinking (on the patio in front of the chimenea, when it cools down).

I'm also going to be working on a couple of furniture projects (fodder for the book), the first of which, a blanket chest for my grandmother's quilts, I've already started. Here I am yesterday, working on the mortises for the legs. I've just routed out most of the waste, and I'm preparing to square the ends with a chisel and mallet:
My, doesn't that new bench look handy?

In other news, the heat has finally, finally broken, at least for a couple of days. Finally. So my morning writing shall happen today in the garden writing room, shown here in the flush coolth of spring, before being neglected and forgotten in the beat-down heat of summer:
Ah, those were the days, when we were still young and hopeful. Cheers, y'all!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


I opened the door to let the dogs out this morning and it




I just thought that was worthy of a report.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Pearl and Henrietta: School Supplies

"Let's see what's on the list...pencils, erasers, spiral notebooks, calculator, lunchpail featuring the entire cast of 'Lost in Space'..."

"That last item may be a little hard to find."

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The finished workbench

Here is the finished bench, showing the installation of the vise and planing stop, both of which I put on the right side, since I am left-handed (a right-hander would put them on the left, owing to where one stands when using a hand plane):

As an aside, I thought I'd mention that I was reading an article about building benches recently, in which a right-hander said it didn't really make any difference which side the vise went on and that left-handers should just adapt. To which I reply: "Come on over here, buddy. I've got some left-handed scissors I'd like you to try out, and once you do, you can tell me again all about how it easy it is to adapt to the wrong-handed world."

Anyway. I decided to install a Jorgensen quick-release vise, shown here disassembled so that I could attach it to the underside of the benchtop more easily:

Here it is with wooden faces made from some scrap mesquite, along with the planing stop, which is made of cherry. The knob that holds the stop in place is one that I made from some scrap maple:

The planing stop when raised (and a better view of the maple knob):

This shows how the vise and bench dogs are used to hold a small panel in place for working:

There is a big debate among bench makers about whether round dog holes or square dog holes are superior.


Pick one and move on.

A shelf I made for my bench planes fits neatly over the stretchers:

The bench is a comfortable height for sitting on my favorite stool and looking out the window as I work. It is is also the perfect width so that it is easy to reach my tools on the shelf beneath the window:

One final construction note: The top is attached with two hex bolts on each end, recessed in countersunk holes. The bolts are 1/4" in diameter, and the holes through which they thread are 1/2" in diameter. This allows the wood to move seasonally. If you don't make accommodations for movement on a large expanse of wood, it can crack.

This made a nice little summer project to work on while the garden was too hot to tolerate, and if I had to change anything...well, I don't guess I would--not even the difficult bits, since they add value to the work.

Friday, August 13, 2010

What I've been up to

Good grief, it is hot. If you think I'm going to stand out in the sun right now and work in the garden, well then, you are just bat shit crazy. So forget about it for a while.

Instead, I've turned the fan on high in the shop, thrown open all the windows and doors, and worked on installing a wood dust collection system:

And while it was fun and I learned a lot, brothers and sisters, I never want to do it ever again. Never ever. I suppose it would have been easy enough if all I had done was run the duct work from the dust collector to all the machines, but nooooo. That's not good enough for Susan, is it? Oh nooooo, she has to completely overhaul/clean out/re-arrange the space, doesn't she?

In the middle of the the July and August heat no less.

Talk about bat shit crazy.

I've lost four  five pounds* in the last two weeks from all the work and heat. I kid you not.

It's not entirely finished. I have to construct dust hoods for the compound miter and radial arm saws, hook up all the machines to the system and ground them.

Here's the deal: Wood dust is a known carcinogen, so if you're going to do a lot of woodworking (and it seems that I do), then you really need to do something about it. (Not to mention that it makes my sinuses swell up like they are stuffed full of sea monkeys.) I've known this for a while, but put off installing the system because, well frankly, I suspected it was going to be a pain in the ass. And it has been.

But it has also been an interesting and fun problem to solve. Part of the reason it was difficult was that I went ahead and totally cleaned out the shop and re-arranged it before starting. After all, once I put the system in, the machines are going to more or less be locked into their place forever. Or until I die or move away. Whichever comes first.

So I gave it some thought and came up with a floor plan that maximizes efficiency and space, unloaded all the shelves (and in the process getting rid of all the things "I might use someday," but never have), shoved and moved all the heavy stuff around, installed the ductwork, and re-loaded the shelves.

(It was really time for a good cleaning and overhaul anyway. I don't want to talk about the disgusting things I found behind the shelves. Let's just say that everything has been sprayed with a bleach solution and the exterminator is coming at 3 o'clock today.

I also caulked and spray-foam insulated the heck out of every crack and cranny I found, so that was a bonus, too.)

I used 4" PVC pipe for the ductwork to minimize friction (which lessens the suction power), and since running wood dust through plastic can create static electricity, I am grounding it by threading a copper wire through all the ductwork and connecting it to a metal part on each machine:

We're getting closer to a tour. Be patient. But in the meantime, here's teaser shot of the almost-finished dust collection system with everything in its new place:

*Edited to reflect what the bathroom scale said as of this morning.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The girls are back.

No, I do not think people will notice that you've been getting some sun. 
First of all, you're covered in feathers.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Newsy news

First, brothers and sisters, I present to you the bench top, with its intial couple of coats of finish:

I still need to attach the vise and the planing stop, both of which I'll do once I've put on a couple or more coats of boiled linseed oil and turp. However, since the work is largely done, my reports on the adventure shall cease for awhile and I shall turn my gaze to other shores.

Tomorrow I travel to Midland, Texas and the Sibley Nature Center to do a public reading and book signing in the morning, and a workshop for the Texas Master Naturalists in the afternoon. After that, I'll continue my journey to San Angelo to visit my mom. (Note to the burglars who read garden blogs: Walu will still be here, not to mention the pack of attack hounds, so you, too, must turn your gaze to other shores).

On my return, I have a few more things to do in re the re-organization of the woodworking shop, after which I shall give you a little tour.

By then it should be cooling down a bit and I may feel like coming back to the garden (and related blogging to that effect). Or at least the wine patio. Or both.

Also! Also! I believe Pearl and Henrietta are scheduled to arrive home from their travels en vacance sometime next week, so BOLO for that happy event.

Until we meet again.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Kick back

I woke up edgy on Sunday after a poor night's sleep, and I carried the feeling with me out to the shop, where those twin gremlins, Vexation and Hindrance, awaited me. I'd been working on the glue-up of the top for the woodworking bench, and it hadn't been easy.

Bench tops are usually made of quarter-sawn wood--that is, you cut your eight quarter wood into strips:

...then turn the strips on their sides so you can glue the faces together:

This makes them more stable and resistant to warping (think "butcher block"). The trouble is that it is a pain in the ass to get it right because the faces have to be as flat as possible when you glue them in order to get a seamless joint, and the piece of junk toy machine I had to work with to do this was wholly inadequate to the job:

Nevertheless, I persisted, milling each strip to get it as flat as possible, then gluing them up in twos:

...which I then glued together to make planks of four or five. I then put the planks through the thickness planer to clean the surface:

It sounds easier in print than it was in practice, and much fulmination and malediction filled the hot summer air. Plus, in the midst of all this, I stabbed my finger with a chisel trying to clean some glue squeeze-out from a joint. It bled a lot. More f&m.

But finally I had all my planks ready to go for the final glue-up on the morrow, when I'd fit all the planks together to create the top. On the whole, it had been a hard day, and not especially pleasant. If I'd started the day on edge, by the end of it I was tighter than a corset after Sunday dinner.

Sunday night I tossed and turned in my bed. An ill wind had blown into the bench adventure, I could feel it in my bones. What had happened to my happy project? The base had gone so smoothly, but the top, lordy lordy, the top...

And it was going to get worse, for the really complicated part was scheduled for the next day. I needed to drill the rows of dog holes (Difficult!), and there was the dado cutout for the stop to be done on the radial arm saw (which still scares me a little--Worry!) before the final glue-up (what if I forgot and glued it up first? Disaster!), and I had to figure out how to align the bolt holes that would attach the top to the base (Trouble!)...

It could all go so wrong. So very, very wrong. It was going to go wrong, for hadn't it already gone badly? Hadn't it already been harder than hard? I could screw the whole thing up and then every time I'd look at the bench in the future, I'd be reminded of my failure as a human being.

Plus, my finger hurt where I'd stabbed it with the chisel.

Toss and turn. Toss and turn. Finally, around 3 AM, I gave up on sleep. I sat up in bed and reached for my Kindle. I'd been determinedly plowing through Matthew B. Crawford's Shop Class as Soulcraft, knowing that I should be interested in the argument it makes, but finding myself strangely disengaged with its pontificatoriness. But in my restless, anxious fog that night, I read something that gave me pause. Crawford was writing about the fractiousness of early motorcycles, and the way the user had to be cognitively engaged with them in order to get them to run. In other words, one could not simply sit on on a bike, turn a key, and go, as (presumably) one can do today. There was a choke to be fiddled with, oil and gas to be mixed precisely according to the temperature of the day, and a kick starter that might or might not work on the first, or second, or eighth try. It took some learning and skill to make it start. (The motorcycle in this instance is part of a longer argument he makes about the intellectual value of working with your hands.)  He writes:

"One was drawn out of oneself and into a struggle, by turns hateful and loving, with another thing that, like a mule, was emphatically not simply an extension of one's will. Rather, one had to conform one's will and judgment to certain external facts of physics that still presented themselves as such. Old bikes don't flatter you, they educate you.

As every parent knows, infants think the world revolves around them, and everything ought to be instantly available to them. At an early stage of technological progress, I am sure that contending with a motorcycle, like contending with the farm animals that likely inhabited the same barn as the motorcycle, helped along the process of becoming an adult (emphasis mine). When your shin gets kicked, whether by a mule or a kick-starter, you get schooled.

...It seems to require that the user of a machine have something at stake, an interest of the sort that arises through bodily immersion in some hard reality, the kind that kicks back."

The kind of reality that kicks back. Crawford argues in his book that this is a good thing. By kicking back, the task reminds us that we have things to learn yet. And, he further suggests, by choosing to learn and master them we claim some agency in our lives.

I'd decided to build the bench in part to practice some of my woodworking skills and here it was kicking back. Just like it was supposed to. Bumping up against something that doesn't immediately bend to our wills teaches us stuff. That is, I was growing some skills because it was hard. The way to mastery sometimes travels through misery. If it was going to be hard the next day, so be it. I'd relax, take my time, and embrace what the bench was trying to teach me about adulthood.

And with that realization, I was calmed. I put the Kindle down, turned out the light, and went to sleep.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

I love these guys

This is where I buy my wood. It's inconvenient, since it's clear on the other side of town for me (Ok, admittedly in LBB that means a twenty minute drive, but still). But the selection of wood is very good, and the guys are helpful and courteous: