Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Dangerous Harbor Freight Tools

No, this won't be a comprehensive list, or even an attempt at one. Instead, I'm going to show you some photos of Harbor Freights least expensive turning chisels. I grabbed a set of these because they were $10. I figured: carbon steel, poor grinding. I can regrind the chisels, as well as hone frequently because of the carbon steel.

Little did I know just how dangerous these are.

The chisels bent under normal use. Yes, bent. Right at the tool rest. Especially if because of the turning I can't get the rest right up against the workpiece. The tang that goes into the handle is just a thin, pointed bit of steel. (Sorry, forgot to snap a pic of that. If you want to see it, ask.) It bent easily on the large roughing gouge because the body of the tool was too substantial to bend at the rest.

The more dangerous item was the shattering handle. It shattered and sent the parting tool that was mounted into it flying across the garage. I still haven't found it, though I heard it wizzing past my ear when it launched.

Avoid the HF cheap turning tools if you value your life and health!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

My First Handtool Project!

I'd been playing around with my Stanley Bailey #5 plane but never really did anything with it. Power tools are so convenient there was no real "need" to use anything else.

Last weekend I decided I needed a small assembly/finishing table made from a spare kitchen cabinet I had. I used scrap 2" thick pine from other projects to make the top. I used the jointer on the edges, glued 'em up, then looked at it closely. The wood was all different thicknesses (from different sources), and needed flattening. I initially reached for my belt sander then realized this was an ideal time to try hand tools on a real project.

I sharpened the blade on my #5 and went to town. The process was actually really fast, only taking an hour or so to level the top. Which was good because my shoulders couldn't have taken much more, heh. The pile of curly shavings around my feet was substantial! But nothing was in the air as with a sander, and I was able to work when the family was asleep upstairs.

The first few minutes was spent tweaking the blade to get a smooth cut without leaving gouges in the wood. Easily done, and no other issues except those ugly knots you see in the photos. They were brutal when planing into them. I had to move *very* slowly when I got to them which killed the groove I was in each time I got to one. But even the knots succumbed eventually!

I cleaned up the tool marks (mostly) with a card scraper. That tool I use frequently, so it only took a couple minutes to get the surface smooth to the touch.

I love working with the plane, and will be looking for more planes so I can do more without power tools.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Small Crosscut Sled

A crosscut sled is an improvement to the design of the typical table saw. It allows the "table" to slide over the spinning blade, taking the workpiece with it, rather than sliding the workpiece itself over the blade. It also provides a convenient place to mount stop blocks, T-track, and other gadgets, if so desired.

This allows for a safer and more accurate cut, especially on small pieces. No more needing to hold your hands close to the sharp blade, trying to control kickback, or needing a Rube Goldberg-esque configuration of blocks, clamps, featherboards, and fences.

First I cut a scrap of 3/4" birch cabinet ply from the BORG. It is only 5 ply, but works fine for many uses. I didn't measure the base of the sled, but it is around 30" x 18". For a sled the exact measurements aren't as important as squaring it to the blade is.

I next cut some 1/2"x4" reclaimed oak boards to make the front and rear fences. I like to use reclaimed wood whenever possible. Partly for cost and partly to preserve the good wood on the market for a little longer. These boards had some embedded nails that could not be removed. So I cut them out on the table saw, leaving several shorter boards. Two were more than long enough so I cut them to match the base.

I jointed them on my 4" Rockwell jointer, making sure the unfinished face and the bottom were exactly 90*. The bottom will be glued to the base, and the face will control the workpieces. I used a homemade pushblock for the face jointing. It is just a scrap of plywood with some rubber shelf liner stuff attached with spray adhesive. No fancy handles. Just enough to keep control of the workpiece.

Once the oak boards were jointed, I checked for square on the sled. My digital angle gauge is perfectly square, and makes for a convenient square when I'm too lazy to walk across the garage to get a "real" square. If the fence on the jointer is square, the workpiece will be too. And this jointer is perfectly square.

I cut some thin strips of oak 3/4" wide to use as rails. I placed these in the slots on the table saw and used shims to raise them just proud of the table saw surface. I then set my fence to fit the sled base so the blade is centered. A square table saw fence will also ensure the front and rear edges of the base are also square to the blade. This is critical because those edges will set the alignment of the fences!

I applied glue to the rails and clamped the base down to the table saw. I was unable to get a clamp on the front left corner so I piled a bunch of weight on that corner. Surprisingly it worked well!

After the glue dried I trimmed the rails to fit and tested the glide. As is normal, the glide is too tight. I used a cabinet scraper to pare down the rails until they would slide in the slots on the table saw with just a medium amount of force. I want the fit tight because once the rails are waxed it's perfect.

I had debated about using mechanical fasteners to hold the fences on, as I have for my previous sleds. I decided against them because they would add complexity without much strength. For a sled this size there is no need for screws.

I set the boards on the sled base again and drew lines so I could easily tell how wide to make the glue on the base. I then applied a nice even layer of glue to both the sled base and the rail, one rail at a time. Several clamps hold it together to dry.

Check the square several times throughout the process. The clamps will often draw the fence one way or another (a good argument for "parallel clamps" that don't do this) and require adjusting. Small position adjustments will usually resolve any angle issues.

Once both rails have been glued and allowed to fully dry, use a card scraper to clean up any glue. Especially on the inside of the sled. Bumps of glue squeeze-out will throw off the perfect square you are going for!

Now is the time to apply wax to the rails. If you haven't waxed your table saw lately, this would be a good excuse to get that done too.

Smear the wax on liberally and allow to dry 5 minutes. Then buff with a clean cloth. I prefer microfiber cloths for both tasks, but any soft cloth will work just fine.

Check the glide again on the table saw. There should be zero side to side play, yet the sled should move smoothly the entire length of the saw surface with just a push from your pinkie finger. Feel free to scrape the rails a bit more and re-wax if needed.

Check your saw blade is a good one for plywood or laminate so you don't get any tearout when cutting the initial kerf. I forgot to check when building this sled, so I got some tearout from using a 24 tooth ripping blade. It may not be critical, depending on the location of the tearout. Luckily for me the tearout was in the middle of the sled, not at the fence.

Sneak up on the cut, moving the blade up just 1/8" of an inch at a time until the kerf is exposed in the sled bottom. Don't worry about making kerf cuts up into the fences. You'll do that automatically when you start cutting workpieces with the sled. Right now you just want a clean kerf to begin with.

Take your time, moving the sled over the blade slowly. There are no awards for speed, and you will just risk tearout of the plywood or fences.

Check that the rear fence is square to the blade. Use your square (a real one this time) and hold the edge to the face of the blade, not the cutting tips. If it is not square you'll have to cut it apart and start over. But if you followed these instructions, you should have a rear fence that is perfectly square to the blade. Do some test cuts to confirm.

At this point you can either be done and call it good, or apply a finish. For small "throwaway" sleds like this it really doesn't matter. the bed of the sled will be chewed up before the wood surface shows any signs of wear. So a finish will be just for appearances. My reclaimed oak boards had a poly finish on one side, I didn't apply one. And I saw no need to remove it either. On some of my sleds I apply two coats of shellac, especially if they're made from MDF to provide some moisture protection. Like, in case I spill coffee/tea/kool-aid on it.

But I'm perfect and would NEVER do THAT!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Carver's Mallet Part 2

The Carver's Mallet Part 1

In Part 1 I talked about making the handle from curly maple and fastening it to 3 layers of cross grain laminated wood.

Now I'm adding the rest of the laminated layers to the mallet and turning the assembly on the router.

As mentioned before, the head of the mallet is made from laminated 1/4" wood, oak and padauk. I had enough scrap 1/4" wood to make it a total of 14 layers. 10 oak and 4 padauk. The bottom three layers attached to the handle and then I stacked the rest on that, gluing up 3 at a time because even that many gets squirrelly when clamping the freshly glued wood together.

The photo above is the final clamping of the entire assembly. Those Harbor Freight bar clamps fit perfectly into the 3/4" holes in my clamping table.

I quickly made a jig from particle board to hold the mallet at an angle over my router. This idea came from an article in one of the wood magazines (I forget which one). The idea is to be able to rotate the mallet over the router bit to give it a smooth face at the correct angle. I wasn't confident enough in my turning skills to use the lathe on end grain oak, so I wanted to use the router.

It was a mistake.

Several times the router grabbed the piece out of my hands, chewed it up, and spit it back at me. I'm glad I was wearing goggles!

I finally gave up on the router and put it on the lathe. I gave my turning chisels a fresh hone, held my breath and started cutting.

Not bad! Not bad at all! Some tearout on the oak end grain, but overall a good turn. I'm very comfortable with the end result. Too bad I had done so much damage to the head already with the router. Otherwise I'd be able to say it was perfect. As it its, the mallet is just ok. There is no finish on the mallet. Just 2 coats of Butcher's wax. The photos were taken before the wax was applied. That shine is from good cuts alone!

Not really. It's from sanding down to 2000 grit. =D

This is a small mallet. I am planning to take what I've learned and turn a larger one with maple for the head.

The photos here show the damage, the turning on the lathe, and the final finish photos.

I hope this helps inspire you to try your hand at crafting your own mallets! It's satisfying picking up a tool that I've made myself!

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Carver's Mallet Part 1

I decided to do something semi-serious on the lathe for once, instead of turning 2x4 pine into a pile of shavings.

I got tired of using a rubber mallet to strike my chisels when I needed to use them. The balance was horrible, and the thing had too much weight and mass to be easily controlled.

What a perfect project then, to make a carver's mallet from the scraps I had around the garage/shop.

First I face jointed a pair of 1x3" (3/4 x 2 1/2") scraps of curly maple. Beautiful figure on this wood! I glued and clamped them into a 2 1/2" x 9" turning blank.

On the lathe I roughed out the shape with my Harbor Freight turning tools. I had a good idea in my head of what shape I wanted, and as I was turning I kept grabbing the handle to fit it to my hand.

Once done, I mounted it into 3 laminated pieces of 1/4" wood: one of padauk and 2 of oak, all with alternating grain directions. I mounted it by cutting a hole in the laminated wood so the handle taper is a press-fit. I cut a kerf in the end of the maple handle so it could be wedged into place. I used a scrap of purpleheart I had for the wedge.

I flush cut the wedge, jointed the face of the laminated wood/handle assembly and moved on to building up the rest of the head.

More next time!

(The Carver's Mallet Part 2)

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Crapstone

Chisels, turning tools, etc, all need sharpening. Usually fresh out of the box.

To completely remake an edge, my bench grinder gets the right shape going, and for repeated honing I have a fine diamond tool. But what about in-between? What to use after the grinder, but before the diamond hone?
I picked up a cheap "Sharpening Stone" from Harbor Freight. This thing is NOT one of their "gems". At 99c (with a coupon) it was still too expensive.

The stone, Item #07345, is labeled as "Superior Wear-Resistant Stone Sharpens Quickly, Evenly And Efficiently To Give You Sharper, Safer Edges" (poor capitalization theirs). It's crap.

The sharpening material dissolves with sharpening oil! Running a tool across it quickly removes the gray material exposing the white core sandstone.

Yes, sandstone.

The gray material is just a thin coating on top of a sandstone brick. Ugh.

I got one use out of this tool, sharpening my 3 chisels, before I had to toss it.

So a word to the wise: Spend the money and get a quality stone. Oilstone, waterstone, whatever. Just avoid this useless waste of space.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Card Scrapers - Why you want to use 'em!

A while back I was going nuts. I usually love sanding as part of woodworking, but I was extremely frustrated trying to sand a purpleheart inlay flush with a maple binder. The purpleheart was just so dense it was taking forever!

A post over on Woodnet got someone suggesting getting a card scraper to get that purpleheart flush. I'd been wanting one, but never had a need for it. Until that day.

I bought a set for $20 with 4 different scrapers, and dropped another $20 on a burnishing rod.

After playing with them and learning how to sharpen a card scraper, I discovered something: They make the wood SMOOOOOOOOTH!!!

Not just dense woods, but even pine is given a nice treatment with the scrapers!

I'm not going to give step-by-step instructions on how to sharpen or use a card scraper. There are plenty of sites out there for that. Google it up.

What I will tell you is that this is absolutely something you want to learn. Properly sharpened and used, a card scraper will create a smoother surface than most power tools, and smoother than you can get wood with sandpaper (without burnishing it and hurting the woods ability to absorb stain).

Plus you have much more control over the tool than you do with a thickness or surface planer. You can remove material in a very precise manner, getting just the area you want, and leaving the rest untouched.

The photos attached to this post are of some edge glued purpleheart I'm using to make a coffee grinder using one of the Rockler Coffee Mill mechanisms and the free plans they provide. I am scraping the glue as well as bringing the two pieces into a more perfect alignment. The second photo is of the shavings after just a few passes with a scraper. You want tiny fluffy curly shavings. Not dust. The scraper is more like a micro-planer and cuts instead of scrapes.

Using a card scraper will improve your woodworking and ease up on your use of sandpaper. Give one a shot! You don't have to buy the stuff I did either. Any bit of hardened steel can act as a burnishing rod, and individual cards are around $5.

Try one and see!