Strong medicine

In the bench build we’ve been working on (and are almost done with!), I used a slow-setting epoxy.  Other than proper mixing, the most important part of using epoxy is to use the proper proportions.  In this case it was 1:1, but other epoxies vary.  The trick is trying to measure that out, especially with the low viscosity of this stuff.

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I have found that the little measuring cups, such as come on cough syrup and the like, are the ideal vessel for most volumes of epoxy.  They’re graduated, so you can easily measure properly, and they’re also meant to be disposable.  Any container you use is pretty much a lost cause once you mix epoxy in it, but at a few pennies apiece, you can afford that with these little cups.

The next time you have to mix epoxy, give these a try, and I imagine that you’ll be pleased with the result.

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A skewed perspective

On the box build this week, you may remember that the sides joined to the bottom using a nailed rebate (or rabbet) joint.  Previously, I’ve shown how to make one with a chisel and a router plane.  This is accurate, and does not require a new tool, but it is slow.  When you’re trying to make a lot of these joints efficiently, the easiest way with a plane built for that.

If you were to mention a rebate plane to a cabinetmaker of a century or more ago, he’d probably figure that you meant something like this, a beech-bodied plane with no fence and the iron bedded straight across.

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If you were to add an adjustable fence, a depth stop, and a scoring cutter (known as a “nicker”), and then skew the iron to work cleanly across the grain, you’d have a tarted up variant called a moving fillister plane that looks like this.

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There were iron variants made of this type of plane, the most common being the Stanley 78, though they made umpteen varieties (even the multi-planes could be set up for it!).

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Now, I tried the 78 for some time.  Unlike the wooden fillister plane that it was supposed to replace, the iron is straight across instead of skewed.  No matter what I tried, I could not get it to cut a clean rebate across the grain.  One night, after yet another session of irritation, I decided that I needed to just bite the bullet and buy a more modern incantation.

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The plane I use now for cutting rebates is the Veritas Skew Rabbet Plane.  It has been a pretty trouble-free addition to the toolbox.  Cross-grain rebates plane cleanly because of the skewed iron.  The fence and depth stop lock securely and easily.  And not only do you have an advancement screw for the iron, but it works easily and precisely.  The only potential problems I could find are that sharpening a skew blade can be a little different to work out for someone new to it, and that the plane is so compact next to a wooden plane (or even a 78) that keeping it level is a little difficult at first since the tall wooden planes exaggerate any lean.  This aren’t faults in the tool, but do keep in mind that there is a little bit of familiarisation to do before you use it on a project.

About the only negative thing you could say about this plane is that it isn’t dirt cheap.  The nerve!  But in this case, it is worth the price.  It is finely manufactured and a pleasure to use, though it does make a lot of my tools look pretty shabby in comparison…

Don’t be an equilateral rectangle!

One of my most often used tools is one of my combination squares.  They are essential to the laying out of joints and checking that assemblies have been joined correctly, but I also use them for everything from depth gauges to laying out for planing boards to the proper dimension.  If you decide that you would prefer the heresies of not using the right angle (hint: it’s called “right” for a reason), then you must be a chairmaker.  Or a creator of “modern art”.  Or both…

Anyway, I have four combination squares that I use.  All are Starrett.

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From left to right: 18″, 12″, 8″, and 6″.

I use the 6″ square for laying out most of my small joinery, dovetails especially.  Most of my marking and squaring of stock while I dimension it from roughsawn gets done with the 12″ and 8″.  I keep the two of them on hand since I can set two different dimensions and keep them unvaryingly recorded while I work, while also being able to use them for checking square and knifing cutlines.

The more unusual square, and one that becomes incredibly useful once you get into large casework, is the 18″ square.  If you work on anything larger than 9 or 10 inches wide, you will find that the 12″ square isn’t big enough.  It doesn’t make sense at first, until you realise that some of the square’s beam must be inside the stock for the locking nut to bear on.  So even though the beam is 12″ long, you only get about 10″ of working length.  For working on anything larger, you would either need to square from both sides (which is not optimal for accuracy) or use a larger square.  You can use a framing square (I did before I finally bought my 18″ combination square), but it is much more unwieldy in use.

Unlike the try squares of old, combination squares do more than gage 90º angles.  The basic stock also has a mitre side, and usually they incorporate a level, which proves quite useful on occasion.  In addition, the beam can be transferred to a protractor (which we’ve used this past week) and a centre finder.  Both have their uses.  Finally, the hash marks that usually delineate 8ths, 16ths, 32ds, and 64ths of an inch (metric beams are also available) are actually cut into the metal beam.  This permits you to precisely set a pair of dividers by setting the points into the desired hash mark.

All in all, the combination square is an important addition to my toolbox, and I believe you would be remiss not to have it in yours as well.

Baby, it’s cold outside!

A few years ago, when I heard about a big spiral-shaped storm dipping down from the Arctic, the meteorologists spoke about it in all caps and italics as if it were the end of days:

POLAR VORTEX!

But quickly that was followed by the various sequels (which were good), and then prequels (which were not), then sequels again…

The Vortex Strikes Back

Return of the Vortex

The Phantom Vortex

Attack of the Vortex

Revenge of the Vortex

The Vortex Awakens

All those different titles and only the even-numbered ones were good.  Wait, wrong franchise…

Anyway, this week we got hit with Rogue Vortex here in Central Ohio.  It was bitterly cold.  Low single digits with sub-zero wind chills.  The chickens went on strike and refused to exit their shelter.  And in my unheated shop, it got kind of chilly.  When I had two layers of wool socks, wool long johns, two wool sweaters, and a wool hat on as well as my normal clothes, and I was still cold, I finally caved.

This is the heater I use in the shop during the winter when I just can’t take the cold anymore.  It works extremely well.

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Unlike a liquid-fueled heater, it’s a very safe device.  The fuel doesn’t slosh and spill when you refill it.  If you tip it over, it won’t leak everywhere and cause a worse conflagration.  The fuel doesn’t go bad, and it doesn’t stink.  You can use any leftover fuel to grill burgers in the summer.  And it really puts out the heat!  I usually turn it on for ten or maybe fifteen minutes in the morning, and that warms the entire shop enough that I can work reasonably comfortably.  The only reason I don’t use it more is that propane is temporary and costly, whilst sweaters, once purchased, can be used indefinitely.

So if you have an outdoor structure you want to warm or if you want an easily stored backup heater for your home, I recommend this.

The mouse that roared

No, I’m not advocating invading New York with a platoon of archers.  But I did have in mind a mighty mite that I use a lot, including on this last project.  This is the Veritas Small Router Plane.

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Sometimes I’d like to use my Stanley 71 router plane, but the workpiece is just too small for the sole to register well.  Trying to mortice hinges on to small doors is an example.  Or, in this case, I was cleaning out the bottom of a blind mortice on the legs of the tabouret we’ve been building, and the full-size router iron was too big to fit inside the mortice.

The small router, however, is just right for these little jobs that require more precision than power.  It will sneak in and nibble everything down level where other tools are too clumsy.  It’s based on the vintage Stanley 271, but it’s actually cheaper than buying a vintage example.  Go figure.

This isn’t a tool you should buy first, but eventually you’ll run into a problem where a small router is the right tool for the job.  In that case, I highly recommend this one.  Once you have it, you’ll be surprised how often you reach for it.

Not a Trejo movie

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When I’m not working in the woodshop, I’m usually working outside.  One of the tools that I have found to be absolutely indispensable is my bolo-style machete.  For almost every job that I do out in the woods, I use it, from trying to blaze my way through the choking lianas to limbing trees once they’re on the ground.

The steel in this particular machete is well tempered 1055.  It’s tough enough to keep an edge for a while, but soft enough that not only does it not shatter if you hit a rock, but it also sharpens quickly and easily with nothing more than a few swipes of a file.  The bulbous front end transfers a lot more force into the cut than a straight-backed machete.  The handle, while utilitarian, is pretty well shaped for long work hours, without any pinching.  And it’s so inexpensive that you can cache them all over without breaking the bank.

So if you need an well-made (and well-priced) tool that will clear brush, limb trees, and decapitate zombies* with ease, look no further than this machete.  It’s certainly done right by me.

 

*No, I haven’t  gone the full Grimes in field testing its zombie decapitation skills, but it’s a reasonable extrapolation based on proven performance in other, related fields.

An elegant weapon…

 

…from a more civilised age.

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I cut a lot of mortices.  Even something as simple as a little side table has at least eight.  One way to cut them is by boring out most of the waste with an auger, then paring out the remainder, but I could never get it to work right, especially with wood species with a strong disparity in density between earlywood and latewood (like pine).  I’d get the lead screw started, but then I’d hit one of those bands of latewood and it would push it off to the side, damaging the edges of my mortice.  About the only thing I could do was to use an auger that was waaay undersize, but then it took an extremely long time to pare everything down to the correct dimension.  But there is a quicker, more direct method.

These are mortice chisels from Ray Iles.  I would say I bought them here, but I didn’t.  Instead, my loving (and apparently scheming) wife managed three different scions of family so that I got these three chisels (1/4″, 3/8″, 1/2″) for the winter solstice last year.  I had to restrain myself from sneaking off to find something to mortice…

I had a couple of vintage chisels with laminated blades that worked pretty well, but these new ones are extremely nice.  The D2 steel in them is the devil’s own to sharpen at first, but they hold up under the battering a lot better.  And bashing them about it the whole idea.

English style mortice chisels like these are colloquially known as “pigsticker” chisels.  They look kind of crude at first, almost like a shiv or something, but really they’re a very refined design.  See, these evolved to cut furniture scale mortices quickly, and with a minimum of fuss and kit.  The heavy blade can take heavy blows with a mallet to power through even tough woods, along with the long primary bevel (there’s a small secondary doing the actual cutting one that you may not see).  The very deep blade stays straight in the cut, while the oval handle helps keep it registered while you beat on it.  The other purpose of that long primary bevel is that when you get it deep in the mortice, it works with that deep blade to let you lever out most of the waste without having to mess with it much.  I can cut a mortice half again as fast with one of these as I can with an auger, and with less chance of bungling it.

So if you have a chance to try a mortice chisel, by all means do.  And if you then want to buy a mortice chisel, I definitely recommend these.  They are a well-executed continuation of a proven form, and almost too beautiful to use.

Almost.