Monday, December 12, 2011

Simp-My-Life: Report on Day Two of the Alternative Non-Consecutive Twelve Days of Christmas

As I have mentioned, Walu and I are planning a kitchen remodel in the upcoming year. Well, mostly I'm planning it. Walu is mainly planning to bear it like a soldier when it happens.

Anyway, I've been looking at magazines about kitchens for ideas, and one question keeps arising in my mind: who are these people with the perfectly matched sets of all-white dishes stacked neatly behind the glass doors in the kitchen cabinets? I mean, really? Who lives like that? What happens when the odd blue dish creeps into the house? Do you scream and attack it with a broom?

If I get glass doors on my cabinets, I'm gonna fill those cabinets with every lonely, mismatched plate I can find. I'm gonna put plastic Flintstones cups in there! Gimme coffee mugs from State Farm Insurance! Guernsey cow salt and pepper shakers! Then I'm gonna post photos of it all on the interwebs to show matching-sets-of-white-dishes people how to live it up a little!

OK, on to the report: Yesterday I finished the Queen Anne ottoman I started during the last Christmas break. I count this as de-cluttering, since I'd essentially finished all the components last year but for the assembly, but was put off by all the laborious sanding required by the cabriole legs. (What? I can't use the random orbit sander? Pffshh!) All year I've left them on top of a work table in the shop, right where I could see them, hoping that since they were annoyingly in the way, I'd be inspired to go ahead and finish the job. But they must have been annoyingly in the way in a singularly uninspired manner, because I just never got around to it. I moved them out of the way a lot so I could work on other things...and then moved them right back in the way so that I wouldn't forget to work on them. So there you go. Another brilliant plan bites the dust. And they were annoying.

Anyway, here 'tis, finished up and in its proper place:

 I also finished organizing and cleaning the laundry room. Here are the new blinds that replaced the light-proof shutters:

And though I'd installed these earlier in the autumn, I like them so much, I'm including them in my Simp-My-Life List O' De-Clutter Goodness: dog and cat food bins:

Finally, I hung a hat rack in the bedroom and filled it with the four hats I use the most:
I may or may not get rid of the other hats; I haven't quite decided...

The rest of the week may be spotty with reports, as it will be busy with grading and the general wrapping up of the semester--hence the "non-consecutive" part of the alternative Twelve Days. I'll work on things as I can, though, as it will give me a much needed psychological break from grading.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Simp My Life: Report on Day One of the Twelve Days of Christmas

It's my project and I get to make the rules, and so Rule Number One is that there will be no "before" photos. Sorry, but them's the rules.

Now that that is out of the way, on to my report for Day One:

My original plan for day one involved getting rid of most of my enormous hat collection, but as I was going through them, it occurred to me that I actually wear quite of few on a regular basis, and can make a case for retaining those. So I need a way in which to store them so that I can continue to reduce clutter. The plan I came up with required some shopping and closet re-organization (which I was planning to do anyway), and so I spent much of yesterday on the road, fighting the Christmas crowd. It was not in vain, however, and as a bonus, I shopped for some organizational tools that I will need for the other de-cluttering projects on my list.

Since shopping took up much of the day, I only had time to do a small project, but it turned out so well, it made for an excellent kick-off. Some years ago, I turned our laundry room into a photo darkroom, but since the advent of digital photography, I haven't had any use for it for several years. I'm planning to get rid of all the darkroom equipment over the break (if possible), and yesterday, I took down all the light-proof shutters on the windows.

Quelle miracle! Such light flowed in!

One of the shutters was over the kitchen sink, which looks out over the laundry room (which used to be the back porch, long before we moved into the house). And although it let a lot of light in the kitchen by taking down the shutter, it meant that anyone washing the dishes now looks down on...well, the laundry room. I don't know about your laundry room but ours is not especially attractive, even under the best of circumstances, what with all the bags of cat litter, bottles of stain remover, boxes of laundry soap, and stuff. While this project is all about getting rid of stuff, unfortunately, this is the sort of stuff I will have to keep. So among all my wanderings along the Christmas shopping highway yesterday, I stopped off at the hardware store and got some frosted glass film. Last night I applied it to the window panes, et voila!

I truly love this, and it was such a simple fix to a major eye-clutter problem. Walu and I have plans to renovate the kitchen sometime in the upcoming year, and when we do, I may replace the window panes with architectural glass in a leaf pattern. For now, however, this really lifts my spirits. I actually enjoyed washing dishes this morning.

Well, not really, but you get my drift.

Friday, December 9, 2011

A different kind of Twelve Days of Christmas

I am really, really sick of the clutter in my house. This all started when my sibs and I cleaned out my parents' house a couple of years ago and I saw what a life of stuff-accumulation can lead to (and my parents weren't even what is popularly termed "hoarders"), and the feeling has not gone away. Since that fateful summer, I periodically get this urge to purge the crap that surrounds me, and for some reason I'm really feeling it this Christmas season. So now that the Christmas break is upon us and I'm pondering just which projects to take on between the craziness of the semesters, I'm thinking it might be fun to have a different sort of "Twelve Days of Christmas."

"What if..." I started thinking this morning, "...what if I spent twelve consecutive days of organizing and getting rid of clutter? One project each day?"

I could call it, "Simp My Life."

The trouble with this plan at the moment is that though I am in a lull between the end of classes and when my students' final projects come in and I can start grading them, the Christmas break hasn't actually started. Until the grading is over, things will remain kind of hectic and crazy. This weekend, however, is indeed a calm before the storm of Monday, when the onslaught of papers starts, and so I find myself itching to clean and organize. So I'm declaring executive fiat on the whole consecutive days thing and saying that I can start tomorrow and pick it back up next weekend, after Commencement Ceremonies, the traditional start of the semester break.
And so it begins...

Tomorrow: The First Non-Consecutive Day of Christmas, or, The Hats Gotta Go

Saturday, December 3, 2011

A custom walnut snap deck for Annette the Xtracycle

This is the second of the projects I worked on over the Thanksgiving break. The snap deck that came with my Xtracycle Free Radical was a simple piece of plywood.

Naturally, since it is plywood, the finish doesn't hold up well to weather. In fact, the instructions say not to leave it out in the rain. What kind of utility bicycle never gets left out in the rain?

So I decided to put my paddle-making skills to work and create a weather-proof wood deck out of some scrap black walnut and soft maple. After all, nobody ever said you couldn't take a canoe paddle out into the rain.

You can't tell from the photos, but the maple has some very pretty curl in it. I finished the deck with four coats of marine polyurethane.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Thanksgiving interlude

So I spent some time in the woodworking shop during the holidays, cobbling up a couple of whimsical bike doodads, because I was bored, or blue, or something, something. I dunno. Do I need a reason for whimsy? Or would a reason render whimsy non-whimsical?

Anyway, here's the first of the projects:

I had some shiny metal Velo Orange fenders on the Rivendell Betty Foy, but they bothered me. To my mind, they just looked too flashy for a bike I've named after my mother (Frances). My mother was not a flashy person.

So I ordered some elegant cherry fenders from Woody's Custom Cycling Fenders:
Once I put them on, however, the bike rack looked pretty pedestrian. I decided that the thing that would spice it up (without making it look too flashy; see above) would be a matching cherry deck. So I cut a couple of book matched slices from a chunk of scrap cherry:

Milled and glued them:

Cut an annoying "lip" off the rack (annoying because it was always getting in the way of my seat bag) and added a brace from some aluminum bar stock:

Finished things up by adding some cherry buttons to keep the rain out of the tubes, et voila!

The cherry has a little curl/flame in it, and over time, it will darken into a rich amber, close to the color of the leather saddle. Cherry is magic like that, and magic is good, in a non-flashy way.

Monday, November 7, 2011

My first fillets

I found fillet brazing to be a bit trickier that brazing the silver into the lugs, but it was also more fun. After I drew the silver filler beneath the seat stay caps, I lowered the flame slightly and began to build up the silver. The first time I did it, I didn't get enough filler layered on, and when I went to file down the joint, there were some big gaps. So I fluxed and fired up again, and laid down some more silver. Then I filed it all smooth. It looks pretty good, and I think it makes a robust joint. You probably don't need a fillet braze that is this big--the seat stay/seat tube juncture is supposedly a low stress area--but I didn't want to take any chances. It still needs a lot of clean up to look finished, but here are the pics:

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Framebuilding update: Fitting and brazing the brake bridge

It's been a busy three weeks at school, so I am behind in nearly everything, including keeping up with this blog. So as an update, instead of a wordy explanation of what I've been up to and where I am in the project, here is a sequence of photos showing the steps to fitting and brazing the rear brake bridge:

Fitting the miters:
 Fluxing before brazing:
 After brazing and before clean up:

 After initial clean up:

I've also been too busy to do much riding, but tomorrow looks like it will be a pretty autumn day, so maybe I'll get out and wheel around a little. If I do, it will slow the work on the frame down a bit, but that's OK; part of the pleasure is working without a deadline.

Monday, October 24, 2011

When the moon is in the seventh house, or, how I learned to stop worrying and love frame alignment, part one.

Well, I was feeling all sparky and full of myself with my last two brazing efforts--attaching the articulated dropouts to the ends of the seat stays and chain stays, respectively. I mean, just look how pretty that articulated dropout looks up there--plenty of filler, minimal clean up. By the time I finished with the dropouts, I was convinced I had this process down.

And of course, you know where that kind of hubris inevitably leads. Next on the agenda was attaching the chain stays. Alignment is especially important here, since a wheel that is askew can create a wonky ride. I've been following this book by Marc-Andre Chimonas for guidance for my frame building adventure:

In it, the author suggests that rather than building a complicated jig for alignment, simply use an old wheel to get the chain stays properly aligned. Like this:

The problem I encountered when I tried this was that one of the lugs in the bottom bracket had some slop in it, and the chain stay would droop down, throwing the alignment of the wheel off. No matter what I tried, the wheel would slide cattywampus to the rest of the frame. I feared that if I tried tack brazing the whole shebang that way that tears would surely ensue.

Also, I didn't have an old wheel to use, and since heat is applied during brazing, Chimonas warns that this could ruin the wheel--something I wasn't too keen to have happen.

So I decided to build a simple jig to align the stays, instead of using the wheel. First I determined the length of the stays and cut them to be flush with the interior on the bottom bracket (shown here before cutting):

Then I attached two piece of angle iron and made sure they were flush with each other by attaching some aluminum bar stock at either end:

I aligned this with the frame:

Then I used a threaded rod and nuts that Will Cannings loaned me for a skewer and made sure the chain stays and dropouts were equidistance apart:

I measured the distance from the threaded rod to the bottom bracket on both sides to ensure that the chain stays would be the same length and alignment would be parallel. After all this, I fluxed everything up reeel guuud and tack brazed it:

After I tack brazed it, I took the jig off and put the wheel in and it looked like it all lined up just fine. So I removed the wheel and set to work brazing. Once I had finished, with everything cooled and the flux cleaned off, I put the wheel back in.

And it was cattywampus again.

Nevertheless, I am nothing if not resourceful, and I applied a little "cold setting" (the metal worker's term for what I would call "carpenterial persuasion") and got the wheel into what appears to be reasonable alignment:

It was late by this time, so I didn't put any measurements to it. If I'm not too knackered after work tonight, I'll do it then and make my report, in part two.

As an important aside, this process took me most of the day on Sunday, and involved a fair amount of head scratching, calculating, and minor frustrations. Even so, never once did a cuss word leave my lips. I hadn't realized that--nor its significance--until this morning as I was writing up this report. Normally during a project that involves lots of frustration, I curse like a sailor. However, I think that on this project, I am so engaged by it and having so much fun, that even the challenging parts give birth to joy rather than stress. Given this, I feel fairly certain I'll be building another frame in the future.

I'm going to build a better jig before I start next time, though.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Frame build update

I've got a few photos to show the progress on the frame. My brazing skills are improving, but largely because I kept finding gaps in the lug shorelines and having to re-braze them, affording me lots of practice. At this point, every lug has been re-brazed at least once, and one has been re-brazed three times. It now looks as if they all are completely sealed, and that there is plenty of filler in each of the joints. Because I was so intent on the latter need, some of my joints required a lot of cleaning up to get a smooth transition between lug and tube. I used a Dremel, small files, and sandpaper to try to achieve this.

This is a rough cleaning. I'll probably do more before sending it off to be painted.

Here I've brazed the articulated drop out of one of the seat stays. I'm really pleased with this brazing job since it was done in one pass, with a goodly amount of filler going in the joint, and minimum globbiness to clean up.

Next up, braze the drop out on the chain stays, measure and cut the chain stays and braze them to the bottom bracket.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Let the brazing begin

In the end, it was the old-fashioned kind of social networking that found me someone who could teach me to braze. A fellow Xtracycle owner, who "knew" me from seeing me ride around town, happened to be working in Velocity Cycles the day I dropped in for a tweak on the Ruby. His name was Jake, and he remarked that he'd seen me on the Xtracycle, riding around, and didn't I also own a Salsa Casseroll? One bike led to another, and I mentioned that I was in the process of making my own frame, but would like to find someone to show me how to braze. And thus it was that he mentioned Will, from whom he'd bought a house. Will, he told me, was a metal sculptor, a colleague from school in the Department of Art, and a fellow cyclist. Jake was sure he'd be interested in my project.

It happens that I've met Will before at a neighborhood party, but we didn't really converse then (because I am fundamentally shy, and would rather stuff a rabbit up my nose than to make small talk with someone I don't know; yes, I realize that this is a problem). He stuck in my head, though, because he was wearing a kilt, an attire he comes by honestly, since he hails from the British Isles.

Anyway, I fired off an email to Will, outlining my project, and he said he'd not only be happy to help, he was interested in building a frame one day himself. So he came over the shop one night last week--wearing regular clothes instead of a kilt--and I had my first lesson in brazing. Here's Will, who, as it turns out, is easy and pleasant to talk to:

Brazing is like soldering, but brazing uses higher heat and a stronger filler for a stronger joint. In this case, I am using MAPP gas and a MAPP torch, both of which are available at any hardware store. MAPP gas, which comes in these yellow canisters, burns much hotter than propane. I borrowed this torch from my neighbor Tom, but it is causing me some wrist pain to hold the whole shebang, so I am currently looking to replace it with a torch that has a hose attached:

Will, who has been brazing since he was sixteen, brazed the first joint--the seat tube to the bottom bracket--to show me how it is done. We first cleaned all the surfaces to be joined with 400 grit sandpaper, and then wiped with mineral spirits to remove any oxides. Then the end of the seat tube and bottom bracket lug hole were painted with white flux and fitted together. Heat was applied and the filler, 56% silver (called Silver 56) was drawn into the joint through capillary action (or, as Will called it, ca-PILL-ary action):
The filler leaves a smooth meniscus around the edge of the junction between the tube and the lug. This is called the "shoreline." When properly applied, the filler goes all the way through the joint and comes out the other side. (That white coating is the left-over flux.) Here it is with the flux cleaned off:

Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, it was not as easy as it looked. Here is my first effort at brazing:

The flux on the lug itself and the head tube (the vertical tube) have turned black, which means that I exhausted it before the filler could be drawn into the lug. When the flux was cleaned off, I could see gaps in the shoreline, as can be seen here, in the small gap at the top left of the junction between the lug and the down tube (click to zoom in, should you so desire to see the gap more easily):
So at Will's suggestion, I cleaned off as much of the oxidation as I could, and then over the weekend, I had another go at it, using a lot more flux, with better results:

It is a little hard to see in the photos, but there is a solid shoreline all the way around, and I'm confident that I got enough silver in there to fill up all the void space, making it a strong joint. The excess filler can easily be cleaned off with files and a Dremel tool.

Speaking of the Dremel tool, I've never really been a fan. In fact, it has seemed for the longest time to be a silly, superfluous tool. I never could figure out what it was good for that a hacksaw couldn't do just as well. But between using it to cut and fit the miters, and now to grind down the excess filler on my blotchy brazing efforts, I have to say that I have fallen in love with this tool.

In fact, I'm so taken with the amazing utility of the Dremel that I've gone ahead and had one of my hands replaced with it. See what you think:

It should be great for brushing my teeth. And as for using it in the kitchen to whip up mashed potatoes, well, I think I need hardly say more...

I still have the top tube to seat tube and seat tube to bottom bracket to braze to complete the main triangle, but here is what it looks like so far when the other tubes are dry-fitted to the brazed in order to check the angles:

By the way, in case you missed my post yesterday announcing the completion of the Bike Garden Challenge, here it is, with all the skinny you need for sending in your pledges. Thank you again, everyone, for all your support.