Sunday, March 30, 2008

Black Desk, Part 1

Black Desk, Part 2
Black Desk, Part 3

"Emo"? "Goth"? "Death Rocker"? What name do the kids with pale skin and black clothes go by now? Bleh. Can't keep it straight.

My 16 year old son, however, just likes black stuff. Especially with an asian twist. Can't help with the asian thing (I bought his dresser because of the asian styling), but I can go with black.

We picked up a bunkbed for him from AFW. It came with a little desk underneath. The desk was a piece of crap that broke during assembly. It was too small anyway, so we decided to make a desk the full length of the bed. So basically the bed and desk are the same size, bed on top, desk on the bottom.

We needed to do this on the cheap, so dimensional lumber from Lowe's is the material. $1.80 2x4's for the legs, and 1x2's for the framing. I usually like working with construction lumber, but not this time. I don't know if I didn't wait long enough to use it (I jointed and planed the 2x4's 3 weeks before milling for the legs) or if it was just craptacular wood. In addition to this, the 1x2's were made of friggin styrofoam or something. They virtually disintegrated when machined in any fashion. They splintered, chipped, cracked, etc, to the point where I gave up trying to improve the crap. It'll all be hidden anyway, so I've just got it as nice as possible then left it alone.

Whatever the reason, this became more of a challenge than I am used to.

Because of the expected abuse this desk will take (it is going into a teen's room, remember?) I wanted mass in the legs. So I doubled up the jointed and planed 2x4's. Rolled on the glue and used lots of clamps. This took forever because I only have enough clamps for one leg at a time. Glue, clamp, wait 2 hours. Glue, clamp, wait 2 hours.Glue, clamp, wait 2 hours.Glue, clamp, wait 2 hours.

The problem was I got some checking while the glue was drying. I couldn't believe it! I was furious. Stupid construction lumber.


Luckily, the ends of the legs will be hidden by the desk top and the floor. As long as the checks stay within the end grain, I'll be OK!

I trimmed to final length (29") and started on the design. First I used a 1/8" kerf saw blade to cut two lines around the bottom of the leg. This was a simple task with the crosscut sled. I just clamped a block at the distance to the first line, cut the kerf on all four sides of the leg, and repeated for all four legs. I then moved the block a little over an inch and repeated. Sanding was accomplished with 150 grit paper folded over a ruler.

I also wanted some vertical designs on just the front legs. So, thanks to the inspiration I received from a member of Woodnet's forums, I slapped together a jig to guide my router in cutting some tapered coves in the front of the two visible legs.

I basically used a strip of plywood, cut it in half, then cut a 3/8" piece off each half. Those acted to separate the two halves when glued together, creating a template for my router.

I used a 1/2" cove bit with a 1/4" shaft, and my 1/4" Porter Cable guide bushing.

A note about the PC bushings. If they're nickel plated, they're crap. The @#$%%^ nut will NOT stay locked in place. I bought a Woodcraft branded brass 1/2" one that stays tight with no problems. Porter Cable really REALLY needs to address this. I'm not the only one with problems with the silver bushing sets. In fact, it seems to be nearly common knowledge among the more experienced woodworkers online.

I made one cove shorter than the other by clamping a wrench across the opening to the jig, causing the router to stop sooner. This gave a little variety to the otherwise geometric designs in the legs.

When routing the coves, I had to fill in the middle because the coves were larger than my bit. But the 1/2" one was all that I could fit in the opening of the jig. So the effort was spent cleaning out the bottom of the cove with multiple router passes instead of coming up with a mickey mouse method of getting a larger bit into the jig, or redesigning the jig.

The taper was accomplished by sticking a piece of wood under one end of the jig, raising it up 3/8" or so. I set the bit depth so it took out less than 1/8" of the leg at the top, but a full 1/2" at the bottom. Because the cove bit cuts deeper, it also cuts wider at the bottom, giving even more interest to the design. This is the first time I've tried varying the depth of a cove like this, and I'm happy with the results.

The legs were attached with 1x2's using glue and pocket screws. The construction grade 1x2's were complete crap. Splintered and cracked at any opportunity. And it considered dirty looks opportunity enough!

I only attached 3 sides because the desk top and shelf will hold them together much better than these shitty 1x2's.

Once glued and screwed, and the glue scraped off I cleaned up the garage to make room to finish the legs. Because I'm going to have to make this a knock-down piece of furniture, I needed to make sure the normally hidden surfaces were stained. So the bottom got stained first. I used Minwax's water based stain in Onyx.

We did lots of tests with different "black" or "ebonizing" stains on pine and birch along with different final finishes. We ended up with the Minwax stain applied in two long-soaking coats, followed by 3 coats of water based poly. For the appearance checks I just used some rattle-can Minwax crap I happened to have. I'll find a better WB poly to use for the final finish next weekend.

The last photo was after the first coat of the onyx. It shows grain and even knots nicely, while keeping the feeling of a naturally black wood. The depth of the color will really come out when the second coat is shown and the poly applied. But before the poly, there will be an added detail that I'll show in the next installment.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Buying Tools Online - Craigslist, etc.

Yesterday I picked up a bench grinder for dirt cheap from CL. The seller said it worked fine, and the price was right. When I went to pick it up the only thing I checked was bearing play. I was pretty unconcerned with electrical issues since I can repair most of those. No play was detectable to my hand so I took it.

I got it home and discovered there was no way the seller could have used the thing. Probably ever. The crimp on the spade connector to the switch wasn't tight, and the grinder would not turn on. No biggie, new connector properly crimped, and it works beautifully.

At the end of this minor adventure, I realized I should document the thought process I went through.

I knew going in that a cheap tool WILL have flaws. Regardless of the story given by the seller. So how to minimize the risk is the real challenge.

For the above mentioned grinder, I decided before going in that the most difficult thing to repair FOR ME would be bearings. Wheels are cheap (and would probably be replaced anyway), electrical is easy to me, even a motor can be replaced if absolutely necessary. But bearings would be the hardest thing to me and absolutely a deal breaker. Grinders are cheap enough new that I wouldn't even take a free one with bad bearings.

So when I got there, and the seller wasn't in a hurry to plug it in and show me that it worked, I just did a wiggle check and spin check on the bearings. They felt good so I paid and left.

When I bought the tablesaw and jointer combo last year, bearings and gears were my main concerns. I knew it was rusty, but surface rust repair was within my reach. The guts were nice, only the bare cast iron surfaces were rusty.

So pick the 'deal breaker' problem(s) and stick to your guns. If you can press bearings all day long, but electrical wiring is a mystery to you, find the stuff with good electrics and bad bearings. If all you are comfortable with is painting, then find the uglies with layers of klown paint and make them purdy.

There are deals out there, but what's a deal to me may not be a deal to you.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Taming the Wild Remotes

When I was writing my review of the Harbor Freight Cen-Tech Digital Angle Gauge I realized I hadn't really used it for anything other than setting my tools to 90 degrees. So I took a quick survey of what wood supplies I had in the garage.

Hmmm... I have a few boards of purpleheart, some "hobby wood" curly maple boards from Lowes, some scraps of poplar, a bunch of redwood... I got nuttin'.
As I walked into my bathroom I found my wife had used some fugly light blue plastic drinking cups to put Q-tips in. *MY* bathroom! The horror! I realized then I had to make me a Q-tip holder that would look nice in my bathroom on my redwood shelving. But I really didn't want to make it out of redwood. That wood is so brittle I cringed at the thought of getting accurate angles without splintering.

But 1/4" maple with some purpleheart strips would be nice! And a perfect use for my angle gauge!

I decided on a hexagon shape, using six strips of purpleheart cut with a pair of 60* angles on the long sides and 1 1/2" strips of curly maple.

I first cut the purpleheart using a scrap of wood for a pushblock and the blade set to 60*. I got that 60* setting by dividing the number of degrees in a circle, 360, by the number of sides in my project, 6. 360 / 6 = 60. The cuts were made with my Delta/Leitz 24 tooth rip blade. That blade leaves such beautiful cuts...

That was easy enough. But the maple cuts weren't. I have a large crosscut sled I made for making some table miters when I first got this saw. But it is really unwieldy when using for small parts. So I had to make a small 48" x 24" crosscut sled. No construction pics, but it's 3/4 MDF with doubled up 1/2" birch ply for the handles. Simple, sturdy, and accurate. It also makes me feel MUCH more comfortable cutting small parts on the table saw. Especially using the David Marks trick of a pencil eraser as a hold down.
  • NOTE: When using a stop block with a crosscut sled, you MUST hold down the piece between the block and the saw blade. Kickbacks are fierce when a piece gets wedged in there. Ask me how I know...
Back to the original project. I cut the maple so the curls ran vertical and the grain horizontal. This gave me less splintering in the curly maple when using a card scraper. But it also increased the risk of grain separation because I was scraping across the grain. I don't know that either orientation would be easy. But I liked the appearance of the vertical ripples.

The maple was 3 x 2 1/2". I cut six identical pieces with the crosscut sled and a stop block. (This is where I learned about holding down the piece between the blade and the stop block!)

I set up my router table with a 1/4" straight bit, set 1/8" high with the fence 1/4" from the front of the cut. This gave me a 1/4" x 1/8" rabbet to set the bottom of the cup into. I ran all the maple as well as the purpleheart through the router.

I placed two strips of blue masking tape, sticky side up, on my bench. I then clamped a straight edge to the bench a little ways below. The straight edge was the register for my parts to keep them aligned and give me a cup that is square to the world.

Once I was happy with the alignment, lack of gaps, and the test fit went well, I brushed Titebond II on all the joints and rolled it up. The overlaps of tape held it together and acted as a clamp. No strap clamp needed on such a small piece. I left it to dry overnight.

The next day I set up my sled again to trim the proud bits of purpleheart. The sled really came into its own for this part since I needed to make 6 identical cuts.

I used my cabinet scraper to clean up the outside of the cup and ease the edges, gently rounding the joints between the maple and purpleheart.

To fit the bottom I used a scrap of 1/4" poplar with the outside of the cup traced to it. I rough cut it on the bandsaw then used 60 grit sandpaper to fit in the rabbet around the bottom of the cut. Once it fit I used a cabinetmaker's triangle to mark the correct orientation then set it aside.

I sealed the inside of the cup and the bottom as separate pieces with some Zissner SealCoat. I'm trying to use this stuff up before it goes bad. It's the same stuff I put on the crosscut sled I made during this project. I don't like how it looks compared to "real" shellac, so I use it in places that aren't seen, or I don't care how it looks. I have started mixing my own shellac from flakes distributed by Hock Finishes and denatured alcohol. The lensing effect of the home mixed shellac is far superior to that of any of the canned finishes I've tried so far!

After two coats of the Seal Coat had been applied and dry, I applied self adhesive felt to the inside surface of the bottom and the inside of the cup.

Yes. It's red. So sue me.

This self adhesive felt is available at WalMart for around a buck for an 8x10" sheet. It took about 3/4 of a sheet for this project. And it was my last sheet of any color (that's why I used red). I need to stock up again.

Once the adhesive had a chance to become permanent, I trimmed around the rabbet and lip of the cup with an X-Acto knife. I double checked the fit of the bottom. It fit a bit proud, as I expected because of the felt. I brushed on the glue and clamped it for an hour.

Finally, I hit the bottom with my belt sander to make the bottom flush with the sides and applied 2 coats (so far... more to come tomorrow) of my home mixed shellac in a 3 pound cut. I brought it inside to hopefully harden completely before tomorrow morning so I can smooth the finish with some 400 grit paper and apply 2 more coats.

While I was sitting in my chair holding it and admiring (we all do that right? I'm not crazy? Hello? Anybody?), I realized I had made it too big for Q-tips. I'd have to have a full package in there all the time. Ugh. So I set it on my purpleheart and maple side table (noticing a trend?) and picked up a Lee Valley catalog to let my mind wander for a few minutes.

My 4 year old daughter came up and dropped a remote in it. "Nice, Daddy! A new remote holder!" She ran off to do whatever 4 year old girls do when they run off.

I, on the other hand, was stunned. Why the !@#%@$^# hadn't I thought of that? The wife had been kvetching about the remotes for months. Somehow she thought getting Dish would mean only one remote.

I know, I know. What can I say? Don't your wives hate the remotes too?

Anyway, it now has a permanent place in the living room on my maple and purpleheart side table. At least it matches.

And I still have an ugly light blue plastic drinking cup in my bathroom. But now its mate has come down to hold Neosporin tubes.

Why can't she just stay out of the Guy's bathroom?

Friday, March 7, 2008

Harbor Freight Cen-Tech Digital Angle Gauge

Cen-Tech Digital Angle Gauge
From Harbor Freight. Regular price $29.99, at the time of this writing it is on sale for $24.95!

I know, Wixey has the name for these little digital angle gauges. But the HF version works just fine.

It ships with the angle finder and an instruction sheet (I hesitate to call it a pamphlet) in a small white paper box.

It's pretty straightforward to use. Set it on your horizontal surface and turn it on. Give it a few seconds to settle on an angle then push the "Calibrate" button. The trick here is not to move the device while pushing the button. If you move it too much it will either be inaccurate or you'll get an "Err" on the display. Once you've calibrated it and it reads zero, put it on your blade or fence (my Rockwell 4" Jointer is in the photo). Give it a few seconds to settle then adjust your device a bit at a time. You have to let it catch up to your adjustments, so adjust slowly. Once you think you are set, wait a few more seconds to let the reading settle down. You may have to make another tiny adjustment at this point to nail your desired angle.

Once you're done, or you've got an "Err" on the display, press and hold the "On/Off" button for 5 seconds to turn the device off.

Not having owned a Wixey or other Digital Angle Gauge, I can't do a direct comparison. But the HF one is very accurate. It is sensitive to being picked up or moved too suddenly while it is turned on, resulting in the "Err" display, but rebooting the device takes care of the error.

It was definitely worth the $$.