Saturday, February 23, 2008

Tips On Working with Redwood

Now that I've completed a couple of projects with redwood, I thought I'd share what I've learned.

  • Power tools don't work
    Especially if you choose redwood with any figure, planers and jointers will introduce chipping and tearout. Redwood is a brittle softwood, and does not respond well to high speed tools. Instead of a planer, use a hand plane. Instead of a jointer, use a table saw with a sharp blade.
  • Sanding Challenges
    Redwood grain lines are much harder and denser than the wood in between. If you sand with a typical finish sander with a padded base, you will find the wood between the grain lines to sand down much more quickly than the grain lines themselves. After discovering this while making my floating shelves I had a decision to make. Do I want to try to get the shelves perfectly smooth or work with the grain. A test board smoothed out nicely with sandpaper attached to a shop made wooden sanding block. But I rather liked the slight raised pattern caused by the softer wood sanding down between the grain lines. So I ran with it.
  • Flat? Whassat?
    I found that even BORG "S4S" (Surfaced Four Sides) redwood wasn't perfectly flat and straight. I chose my boards for figure and color first, then by what was flattest. Using a straight line ripping method (use Google, or wait for my write up sometime in the future on this technique) will get you one jointed edge. From there you'll have to decide whether to risk the tearout in a planer or use hand tools. I went the hand tool route...
  • Color
    Redwood color can vary widely from a deep maroon to a light tan. While all heartwood will darken with age or exposure to sunlight, the pale sapwood will not. If you leave sapwood in your workpiece be mindful of the fact that it will stay pretty much the same color while the red heartwood darkens over time. Also, there are wide variations in the color of the heartwood. The wood at your store is usually adequately aged so you have a good idea of the color the wood is capable of and where it will end up after aging. Working the wood removes the darker aged color, and it can then be difficult to determine what the color will be. Choose your wood by color, and if you are purchasing different shades of heartwood at the same time, save working the wood until right before your project, and somehow mark the wood after it's been worked to keep the colors separate.
  • Finishing
    I'll finish with finishing. I use shellac on redwood whenever possible. Shellac provides a better "lensing" of the highlights in redwood than poly. Many coats, sanding with 400 grit paper after every second coat, gives the best finish. On the floating shelves I had planned to use polyurethane because of the wet environment of a bathroom. But after seeing the results from the small shelf, making a test piece with the poly, and comparing them, I found the shellac to be MUCH nicer. Six coats, a couple coats of paste wax, and the shelves were ready.
I hope this helps you to explore redwood. The warm colors, distinctive grain, and specular highlights under shellac, all combine to provide you with a beautiful material for your next project.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

More with the redwood?

Yep. More redwood. I really like the stuff.

Here I'm building some "floating" shelves for my bathroom to match the Quick & Dirty Bathroom Shelves I did last month.

I'm using a modification of the common floating design. Here I'm allowing the shelf to overhang the box 2" all around. In the pic to the right you can see that one shelf has a bottom enclosing the box, and one doesn't. I really just hadn't decided which to go with, so I did one of each.

Again for my bathroom, the rule is "Simple, cheap, easy, attractive, functional!" So I used butt joints with pocket hole screws and Titebond II glue.

In the photo you can see I used two screws to attach the sides to the front and one screw to attach the shelf at the rear. The glue is also applied only to the area of the screw. The rest of the shelf is left unattached to allow for movement. While I wouldn't expect much movement on a 6" deep shelf, it's going into a bathroom with all the humidity changes that go with the location. Better to be careful in the design and construction than to have buckled or cracked shelves next summer.

I wanted to show a comparison of the shelf with 4 coats of shellac next to an un-worked board. The color difference is dramatic. Redwood darkens as it ages, and my shelves are freshly sanded and machined. This makes them lighter. With the shellac the pale reds turn golden orange, like a beautiful sunrise. I love the color of the finished redwood. And as I said, it darkens with age, making it even more attractive over time.

The design is in the last photo. I haven't hooked my flatbed scanner up since moving last December, so you get the best I can do with a digicam.

Also, the lighting of these shots aren't up to my usual standard. I got a new external flash and am still dialing in the exposure curve for it. So you get some goofy looking shots because I didn't want to wait to get the exposure curve down before getting this posted.

I'll add the installed photos to my blog when I get them finished. So I guess this is Part 1...

Added 2/23/08

I've got the shelves completed and installed. I started with measuring the width of the wall above the toilet in the bathroom. It is 30" across. My shelves are 24" across, which gives just enough "white space" on either side of the shelf to keep things clean.

I cut cleats from 1" x 1" redwood scraps to 10" long. This will give wiggle room for the shelves to be centered on the wall as well as make the calculations for centering simple. I held one against the corner of the wall about the height I wanted then made a mark at the end. Mounting the cleat at that mark will center it exactly on the wall leaving 10" on either side of it.

I had predrilled holes in the cleats at 2" from either end, large enough to allow the Walldog screws to pass through and mount to the wall. I held the strip at the mark I made in the wall and attached the left screw on each cleat. I tightened it just snug enough to keep the cleat from swinging, but loose enough to make level adjustments.

Next I put my level on the cleat and made certain they were absolutely level. I then put the second screw in each cleat, followed by fully tightening the first screw.

Now it's time to mount the shelves. As you can see in the pics above, I had predrilled two holes for screws in the shelves, and added a countersink so they sit flush.

Holding the shelf to the wall and cleat, I drove stainless steel screws into the cleats through the shelves. The screws hold the top of the shelves to the wall and the cleat, and the weight of the shelves plus whatever is placed on them holds the bottom firm against the wall.

Because these are bathroom shelves, they won't be holding much weight, but if they ever need to they will be fully capable of handling the extra weight.

The redwood shelves add a beautiful contrast to the stark white of the bathroom, in addition to providing much needed storage space. Tied with the redwood mini-shelf just above the sink, the bathroom is much more attractive and pleasing to the eye.

My next redwood project for this bathroom will be the towel racks.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Craftsman Drill Press Model 315.11970

Craftsman 3/8 Inch Portable Drill Press

MODEL: 315.11970

I picked this up on eBay for pretty cheap. Judging by the logo (used from the early 60's to the early 70's) and its plastic housing, I'm guessing it was manufactured in the early 70's.

It has an iron base, a thinwall steel tube clamped to the base with a set bolt, and a motor that rides on the tube with another set bolt with a hand knob so the motor can be raised or lowered on the tube.

It arrived in good condition, there doesn't appear to be any abuse to the tool. But the thing is unstable as hell.

I did some tests with the following bits:
  • 1/8" brad point drill bit
  • 3/4" spade bit
  • 1/4" twist bit
All tests done with a scrap of pine 2x4.

The screw holding the base to the vertical tube was tightened as tight as possible without risking snapping the bolt. The motor housing was lined up to match the base, and the hand knob cranked as tightly as I could. Everything I could tighten from outside the housing was tightened.

I set the speed to "L", put the brad point bit in, and turned it on.


It sounded like a cheap model airplane! It seems Craftsman put their bottom-of-the-line hand drill inside this housing. At least, that's what it sounds like. Loud and horrible.

I used the handle to lower the bit to the wood. The bit started to take a bite then it jumped 1/4" toward me from where it started. It seems not only is the shaft bearing worn (or just sloppy) but the whole mechanism is loose inside the housing. Not much. A smidge. But enough to allow it to move the bit on the workpiece.

Being this was a brad point bit, I didn't expect any improvements using the spade bit or the twist bit.

I wasn't disappointed.

I am willing to accept the fact that it's a weak hand drill motor powering this thing. For its size and weight that's probably a necessary trade off. But the instability of the chuck is too much to deal with. So off the bench it went, onto a shelf. I'm not going to plug it in again until I have a chance to completely disassemble it and see if I can find the slop.

Of course I'll post what I find. Did you think otherwise?

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Clamping Workbench Repair/Upgrade

You've seen 'em. Those little workbenches that sell for $10-20 at Autozone. They seem so flimsy, right.

They're one of my favorite tools. I've used them for years for everything from a painting table to assembly, sanding, planing, etc etc etc. They get pretty abused and the crappy particle board tops always break after a while. Then, as soon as they're on sale for under $20 somewhere, I get another one. But I realized when my current one snapped that the metal frame and clamping system work just fine. Why toss the whole thing when all it needs is a top?

Then I started thinking about improving it. (Uh oh.) Luckily all I could think of was to make the top a little larger.

Whew. That could have gone bad.

Some of the 2x12" boards I had scavenged off a waterbed became the new top. I started working those boards to use for shelving, but they were too warped. Of course I noticed that AFTER putting a nice profile on the edges. So that is just a little bonus for me when I used them here.

I cut them to 30" long, jointed the edges that meet to keep them parallel, and laid them on the garage floor. After unscrewing the particleboard tops from the table, I flipped it over and lined up the mounting brackets. That was easy.

The hard part was getting the dog holes. I laid out a pattern I liked and hit the table with my B&D 18v cordless and a 3/4" spade bit.

This took a while because the bit would get pretty hot after 2 holes, so I let it cool before moving on to protect the edge. But the spade cut this old yellow pine nicely. I was afraid I'd have to find the box with my hole saws, but the spade did so well I didn't bother.

After the holes were drilled, and I checked the fit of the plastic dogs I've been collecting from all the tables I've bought over the years, I got up and stood on it to test its strength. Perfect.

The pic below shows the assembled and drilled top with one of the old top halves. The other half is the one that snapped. You can get an idea of how much bigger I went with my new top.

I finished it with just a few coats of Butcher's Bowling Alley Wax. I love this stuff and use it on anything that might have some wood content. The feel of the wood after application is amazing. Silky smooth. I use it with poly, shellac, or in this case bare wood.

I've already started using my new table to hold some binder covers while I hit them with the belt sander. Worked great! Here's a sneak peek at my latest binder covers:

They're bookmatched ambrosia maple, edged in purpleheart, with tiger maple on the left edge. I can't wait for the finish!!!

An Inexpensive Mobile Base for the Table Saw

My 9" Rockwell Table Saw / Jointer Combo is heavy. Maybe not Powermatic 66 heavy, but heavy. Since my shop is my garage (or is it my garage is my shop?), I need to move it around as I work. Not good for my back, and probably not good for the saw stand either.

I picked up a mobile base at the BORG for $30. It's the Port-A-Mate PM1000 Universal Mobile Base. (Note that the link to Amazon has it as quite a bit more expensive. Dunno why it was only $30 at Home Depot.)

It was easy to assemble. One note though, the instructions suck donkey balls. Just use the exploded diagram to assemble it.

If you're going to be putting your tool on it by yourself, a tip: Assemble it in two halves, leaving the bolts out of the crossmembers between them. That way you can lift one side of the tool, slide that half in, then do the same on the other side. At least for me, it was easy to bolt the two halves together while under the saw.

What's funny is I went and bought casters to build my own. But this was just way too easy. I couldn't make myself pass it in the store. And now my saw is mobile. It's wonderful being able to easily scoot it out of the way when I need the floor space!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Case of the Flexible Planer Blade

That's the blade on my new Craftsman 12 1/2" planer. The other blade (there are two) has a smaller piece in the same location.

After doing some research and calling Sears service, it appears that curly maple causes this on occasion. And guess what I was planing?

I keep the cuts VERY light on curly maple, but it seems that I still need to be extra careful. In this case I didn't notice until there were burn marks on the wood I was feeding though. So that chip is actually lots of little chips built up over several passes.

The nice thing is that the blade and gib straightened out nicely, with the gib requiring just a little bit of filing to square the end.