Friday, November 13, 2009

Radial Arm Saw Recall Results

A little while back I had posted about my free radial arm saw here:

It was a great deal and I was *very* happy to get it. Then a couple weeks later I found the Radial Arm Saw Recall website. It seems that Emerson is recalling a whole bunch of the saws they made for Sears under the Craftsman badge. The safety gear originally offered was inadequate. In fact, I have seen very few saws with the guards actually still in place. (The same goes for most table saws, unfortunately.) See the original saw photos at the above link if you wish to compare.

Emerson did this, " In cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)." I suspect it was less in cooperation with and more under threat from. But who am I to argue? Emerson committed to retrofitting some 3.7 *million* saws. That's a lot of recall and a lot of cost. Especially when you see what they provided.

I signed up online at the above website and thought I'd get some silly guard thing that I'd hate. I was absolutely wrong. A HUGE box appeared at my home a week or two later. I hauled it into the garage and left it for a week, while life got in the way. When I was finally able to open it I was shocked to find:
  • New blade guard - This Rube Goldberg contraption looked horribly complex. I figured I'd hate it.
  • New tables - Brand new MDF table surfaces. Everything but the fence (which is a consumable anyway.)
  • New table support wings
  • New table clamps
  • Set screw system for the center of the table to prevent sag
  • Dust deflector
  • New handle
  • Accessory guard - For use with dado blades or molding cutters.
Wow. A LOT of stuff. And none of it appears cheaply made. Except for the table which is drilled for several models, the whole thing appeared to be made specifically for *my* saw.

Installation was less challenging than I thought it would be.

I ripped my old table out and chucked it. I suspect it was the original particle board table from when the thing was sold 20-ish years ago. Buh-bye! I pulled the original table support wings off, saving the hardware and original clamps, and fastened the new ones on. Spent a little time dialing in the height per the instructions that came with the kit. Easy.

I installed the new table using the original hardware. The kit also described a T-nut and set screw for the center of the table, but only the T-nut was found. The screw was MIA. It's a standard size so I'll pick one up at Ace Hardware next chance I get.

I then attached the adapter for the guard. The adapter bolts to the motor housing and provides a more secure place for the guard to attach. It keeps the guard from moving as my original one was prone to.

A note about the new guard: It includes a riving knife! HOORAY! That is the one thing that has had me looking into replacing my beautiful Rockwell with something newer. The safety provided by a riving knife is huge when ripping. It prevents the wood from pinching at the back side of the blade, causing the blade to grab the wood and send it flying from the 3200 rpm spin. Also, the pawls are much improved. They don't appear to get in the way as easily as many I've seen, plus can be easily lifted out of the way for jobs where they just interfere. While leaving the riving knife in place!

Once the guard was on, I attached the rubber elbow to the dust port. It allows me to redirect the stream of dust away from me while cutting. While I can attach my shop vac to the port on both guards, for a quick cut that would be way more trouble than it was worth. Plus on the original guard the port faced me. So I either had a blast of dust and air, or I had a big hose in my face. Neither encourages comfortable operation.

After aligning the riving knife to the blade per the included instructions, I swapped handles. I've got to say that the old one was more comfortable. It had a better ergonomic design. But the new one had something the old one didn't. A lever to raise the guard. Such a simple yet useful feature! No depending on pressure against the wood stock to raise the guard. No needing 3 hands: One to raise the guard, one to hold the stock, and one to push the handle. Sweet.

I do have a problem though. The instructions said to re-use the bevel indicator and screw on the new handle. The hole is drilled too big for that. The screw doesn't seat properly. A larger screw will solve it, but I wish the instructions said so...

Everything assembled and dialed in and I'm a happy camper. It's much safer to use this tool now, and I'm more confident in its use. Now to see if it replaces my table saw as my go-to cutter. I've never ripped on a RAS before so I don't know how well that will work for me...

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Surfboard Clock

A daily battle in my home is with my 18 year old son and his 45 minute showers. I've been trying to set an example by keeping my showers short, and turning the water off when not actively rinsing. To no avail. And the $135 a month water bills keep coming.

I thought maybe a clock in the bathroom would be helpful. Even if not, I'd like a clock in the bathroom to let me know when I'm running late.

My bathroom is done in surf theme, with redwood shelves and towelbars, and a big cool surfboard shower curtain. So I wanted a design that brought surfboards to mind without being obviously a surfboard, and incorporated redwood and some color.

I used a piece of curly maple for the center and redwood for the sides, and poly resin with blue pigment inlaid into the dividing lines between the maple and the redwood.

I also used this as an experiment on using a slot cutter with wood wedges to locate the joints and add strength, as a replacement for a biscuit joiner.

I cut the slots, used lengths of scrap walnut to fit inside the slots, glued and clamped. I sanded the pieces flush and then sanded the sides more to give the face of the clock a curved shape. I then drew circles on the ends with a compass and cut them on the bandsaw. I sanded the round ends smooth then did a finish sanding to 220 all over, easing the edges with the sandpaper.

I cut kerfs into the joints between the woods with my table saw blade, only cutting 1/16" deep. Tape was used on the ends to keep the resin from pouring out. I mixed up my resin and poured it into the kerfs. 30 minutes later it had gelled enough that I took the tape off and placed the whole thing into my oven at 170* for 4 hours to harden the resin.

I used a cabinet scraper to remove any splatter or overflow from the resin. then sanded the whole thing again to 220.

That set aside, I started working on the clock face. The cheapo clock kit from WalMart ($6.97) included some really cheesy looking plastic numbers. I threw those away and searched the internet for a clock face diagram to get the marks lined up properly. I found one, but didn't save the link (sorry!). It looks like it was supposed to be a printable face for a clock project from one of the woodworking mags.

I cut thin strips of walnut and then cut them to about 3/4" long by 1/16" square. I glued them to the paper with thin CA glue (wax paper underneath to keep the glue off the wife's table cloth!) It just takes a dab of glue since you're going to sand off the paper anyway. Once that was set I flipped the paper over onto the clock, using medium CA glue on the walnut. Clamped by laying a stack of phone books on top.

I drilled the center hole for the clock mechanism shaft, and finished with rattle can poly. Mounted the clock mechanism and hung it on the wall.

I love the look and it fits wonderfully in my bathroom. Unfortunately it didn't help with my son's shower problems.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The FREE Craftsman Radial Arm Saw

Friday a Freecycle ad was posted for a "Not Working Radial Arm Saw".

I never get in on these, but fired off an email anyway. Turns out I was the first responder. YAY.

I get there Friday afternoon, and the tool was already disassembled for travel. So I didn't get a chance to check it out before taking it.

I loaded it up in the Guacamole Bus and took it home. It wasn't until Sunday afternoon that I got a chance to unload it and put it together.

Everything went together nicely like it should, and I plugged it in. One last look over before hitting the power button, and I found the breaker tripped in the motor.

I pushed the big red "RESET" button and it clicked. Hit the power switch and it whirred into life. All that was wrong with it was the breaker had tripped!

This saw has a reasonably powerful motor. The head moves smoothly on the arm. All the adjustments are positive and solid. All-in-all a decent saw.

If I was spending money on a 20-30 year old RAS, it probably wouldn't be a Craftsman, but for free, well... ;)

I haven't trued it up yet since I really don't have a place to put the thing. A radial arm saw is a large tool and needs elbow room. Room I just don't have.

I think I'll put it on the bench where my 10" Craftsman Bandsaw lives, but I'll need to build a base for the bandsaw. A base for the bandsaw wouldn't need to be as substantial as the one for the RAS would, so I think that'll be the better decision.

What would be great is if a larger garage fell out of the sky and attached itself (neatly) to my house.

Riiiight... THAT'LL happen.

In the meantime, I'll enjoy my free saw.

By the way, that Oldham 60t carbide blade came with the saw.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

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First (mostly) Kitless Pen

For my first "kitless" pen, I decided a twist pen would be a great starting point. No threads to mess with, no caps to lose, and so on.

For the twist mechanism I used a transmission from a slim, flipped upside down to power a Parker-style refill.

I took the two "A" tubes from the same slimline kit and butted them together in the long poly resin blank. The blank is cast poly resin in green and black. I named it "Alien Blood".

Once the tubes were glued into the long blank, I turned the whole thing round on the mandrel then cut a tenon down to the tube at the end.

The nib is made from 5/8" aluminum rod from the BORG. I drilled a hole for the writing tip (7/64" I think... Can't remember from here) then a 7mm hole most of the way through to stop the refill spring as well as mount on the brass tube I exposed on the barrel.

The nib I glued onto the exposed tube with 5 minute epoxy, then turned the whole thing between centers. This gave the nib a seamless fit onto the poly blank, and was super easy.

The finial houses the transmission. I drilled a 7mm hole and glued in a short bit of tube to press fit the transmission. The finial is then pushed onto the barrel with the transmission friction fit holding it together.

It's a weighty pen, with excellent (surprisingly) balance. Very easy to write with. The only downside is the spring on the refill tends to push the finial up out of the tube over time. I tried cutting some of the spring off to weaken it, which helped. But isn't perfect.

Next incarnation of this design will use the nib threaded onto the barrel instead of glued, and the transmission will be glued in place. This should eliminate separation of the assembly with use.

Monday, June 22, 2009

An aluminum pencil

Click the pics for bigger photos!

I've done many Pentel based mechanical pencils. Woods and plastics are beautiful and (generally) quite durable. But I've been wondering just what it would take to make one from metal.

Having only a wood lathe, my attempts to work with stainless steel have been unsuccessful so far (but I'm still trying!) Softer metals seemed like a safe bet. So I started with aluminum since it's cheaper than brass, which I plan to tackle next.

This pen in the photos is *NOT* of selling quality. It is a learning experience. And I'm pretty darn happy with the results. I drilled a 3/4" aluminum bar on the lathe using the same stepped bit I use on all my Pentels (purchased from rherrel at It was a bit trickier than drilling wood or resin since the bit is long and slender. It tends to flex and vibrate during drilling.

Aluminum also gets quite hot when drilling. At a minimum this can quickly dull the drill bit. With the aluminum clamped in my large scroll chuck, I also worried about the heat getting to the bearings. So I cooled the bit and blank with cutting oil repeatedly. Drilling took a really long time because of this, but preserving my tools was worth the effort.

Next I mounted the blank on my Pentel mandrel, also purchased from rherrel, and started turning. I experimented with several different tools, including carbide metal lathe bits, and found my big roughing gouge (carbon steel... not even HSS!) to be the best at smooth cuts in aluminum. But it required very frequent sharpening to keep it cutting, and not chattering or squealing. Whatever tool I used, I had to take super light cuts. The aluminum came off in such thin ribbons that it turned to dust when I touched it.

I also used a round nosed scraper to get the final finish. It worked very well, but took even less material off per pass so I didn't use it for shaping. Only to remove any ridges left by the gouge.

I sanded 400-600-800 and gave it a quick buff on the felt wheel. I have a bright satin finish on it that I think suits it very well and doesn't show every fingerprint.

I debated giving it a lacquer finish but decided since this isn't going to be sold, it would be good for me to use it every day for a while to see how the "finish" holds up, and what it will take to restore a beat up aluminum pen. I expect some Mother's mag wheel polish will shine it up nicely.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Pentel-Based Mechanical Pencil - Start to Finish

I've enjoyed making these Pentel mechanical pencils so much I figured it's time to share the process. I'm using sappy walnut for this walkthrough.

The tools are:
  • Lathe- A Turncrafter Pro 5-speed lathe from PSI
  • Drill Chuck- MT2 drill chuck from Harbor Freight
  • Dead Center- Generic MT2 dead center
  • Live Center- 60* live center from Woodcraft
  • Step Drill Bit- Step drill bit from rherrel on
  • Step Mandrel- Step mandrel with steel and delrin bushings from rherrel on
  • Scroll Chuck- Generic scroll chuck came with the lathe
  • Your chosen sharp pointy things- I generally use a roughing gouge and a skew for these
I first choose the material. Here I used some interesting sappy walnut. For a lighter color, I use air-dried wood. If I want it darker, I will either stain the air-dried wood, or buy steamed walnut.

Square the end then measure it against the step bit. From experience I've found that I like the length from where I mounted the stop on the bit to about halfway down the small end.

Cut the blank at the mark using the same tools you used to square the end. Mark the centers of the blank and drill a small shallow hole to guide your centers. Mount the blank on the lathe between centers and rough it round.

Take the blank out and remove the centers. Mount the scroll chuck on the headstock and loosely mount the blank in it. Mount your drill chuck with the step drill bit in the tailstock and line the bit up with the hole in the blank from the center. Assuming your drillstop is set up correctly, you can now drill the pen's hole.

Drill as you would any other blank, 1/4" at a time, backing out to clear chips and keep from overheating the bit or the material. I like to rest the drill stop against the blank's end to burn it square. I usually get it pretty good off the table saw, but this also helps define the click end nicely.

When it's drilled, remove the blank from the chuck. Remove the drill chuck and bit, and mount your live center. Mount the mandrel on the scroll chuck (or a collet chuck if you have one) loosely and bring the live center up to the mandrel. When you tighten the scroll chuck, the mandrel will be perfectly aligned with the tailstock.

With many woods, particularly softer woods such as this sappy walnut, stabilization is needed. I prefer CA glue.

Pour thin CA glue into the hole, making sure the wood is fully saturated at the nib end where it is thinnest. I will also saturate the click end because that gets some abuse as well. The center of the barrel won't generally need to be stabilized unless it is a burl or spalted wood. Then you may need to saturate the entire blank.

I am using Titebond's CA glue here because I was out and that's what Woodcraft (I think) sells. Use what is most cost-effective or available to you.

When you're done soaking the wood in CA, let it cure for a few hours minimum. While the outside may be dry, the CA inside the tube might still be sticky or even really wet.

At this point you will need to re-drill the hole. I just hold the drill chuck in my hand with the bit still mounted. Gentle turning by hand will smooth the hole and remove any runs or blobs without removing any more wood.

When you're done, mount the blank on your step mandrel with the steel bushings. Loosely tighten the nut then bring the tailstock up snug enough for the live center to turn when you spin the mandrel. Tighten the nut on the mandrel finger tight, bring up the tool rest and go!

Turn the shape you want for your pen, but larger than the final diameter. I like to rough it big, then pare it down to size with the skew. Final sanding will take it a bit undersized, the difference to be made up with my CA/BLO finish. If you want a different finish or don't want to build it that much, make sure your sanding takes it to the final diameter.

As mentioned, I use a CA/BLO finish on my pens. The BLO will darken most woods, but more importantly it acts as a lubricant and accelerator for the CA. Using this method, I can put 10 very thin coats on in 15 minutes. Makes for an extremely durable and beautiful finish that can be done in a few minutes instead of days.

This pencil I made "beefy", a more masculine shape than is usually found in pencils. In the final photos, you can see it compared to a more typical pencil, in this case one made from curly jatoba.

I hope this walkthrough helped you decide to start making some Pentel-based pencils. The Pentel Sharp mechanism is miles better than any pencil available as a "kit" from the usual penturning suppliers. And it's available in 0.5, 0.7 and 0.9mm sized leads.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Simple Pen Photo Tutorial

A pencil of mine was recently awarded "Featured Photo" at the International Association of Penturners website ( Since then I've been getting lots of, "How did you take that picture?" type questions.

I've significantly changed my way of shooting pens since the last time I talked about it, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to do a walkthrough of my process.

It's actually VERY simple, and requires minimal equipment.

First of all is the camera. Many moons ago I was into "serious" photography. I had tons of gear, 35mm and medium format and all the bits and bobs that go with those cameras. But when digital cameras were able to match (or exceed) the quality of 35mm film, I got out. I sold the bulk of my gear while I still could, and only had a few accessories left.

Considering that background, I have always had a hard time buying a digicam that did not have a PC socket. The PC socket is a generic flash socket and has been around for decades. It allows the most flexibility in strobes and flashes. I had hung on to some of my lighting gear (my main photography focus was nature, but I still had need for artificial light on occasion), and a PC socket was required to utilize that gear.

My current camera is a Kodak Z7590. It's a few years old, but was the best camera sporting a PC socket I could afford. It also has some pretty decent manual controls, including a realtime levels meter.

The built-in flash is surprisingly good, but of course is still fixed in place, and REALLY close to the lens. So its use is limited.

But I have a Vivitar flash that has more than enough power for my needs, and will attach to the PC socket on the camera. The camera has no way to control the flash other than "on", but the manual controls on the camera for aperture take care of that. The flash also has an "auto" mode, where it tries to guess the exposure based on a sensor in the flash body, but that is never used.

The flash by itself isn't much better than the built-in flash in the camera. What makes it perfect for me is the fact that I can bounce it off the ceiling or wall as needed. It doesn't need to be mounted to any brackets or the camera itself. In fact, it wouldn't be as good that way. (There is another way though if you have a higher-end flash with a pivoting head. If you're interested, leave me a comment.)

Depending on how lazy I am at the time, I may or may not mount the camera to a tripod. The flash allows hand holding with minimal loss of sharpness, so it's not critical. In one hand I hold the camera set to "M" (manual) and with the aperture set to 4.0 to start with. Shutter is 1/25 or so, just fast enough not to capture any ambient light. With the camera pointed at the subject, I point the flash at the ceiling and press the shutter.

That's it! No magic, no sacrifices of small animals, nada. From here it's just a matter of playing with the aperture until you get the image you want.

I find that having a white background for the subject is much easier than a colored background. The reason why is apparent when I move into the post processing.

For post processing, I use Adobe Photoshop. The most recent version I own is CS3 (thanks work!). Any version of Photoshop should be able to do what I'm going to show you, as well as most other image processing applications. But I've been using Photoshop since v3 so long ago passed the learning curve.

When shooting the image, try to fill your frame with the background. As you can see from the photo on the left, I got some extraneous stuff in the image. That's OK though because I was going for a detail shot of the clip. It will be cropped anyway.

I load the image in Photoshop, and define my final image crop. As I said, I was doing a detail shot of the clip, so that's what I cropped to.

Once I'm happy with the cropping, I open the Levels tool (Image - Adjust - Levels in Photoshop CS3). As you can see, the white levels are maxed out. They're "outside the gamut". That means there is no information other than "white" there. So I can move the light colored caret to the left to essentially remove that section.

Doing that may provide an apparent washed out look. So the gray and black carets must be moved to compensate. Tiny adjustments are usually all that is needed. The background stays true white, while the subject gets darkened as you adjust.

Once you're happy, resize the image (for web use I do no more than 600 pixels for the longest side), sharpen if desired, and save.

It sounds a lot harder than it really is. And with digital cameras, there's no film cost, no processing cost, no delay while you wait for your pictures. You get instant gratification, and can keep trying over and over until you get an image you like.

Drop me a note over at the IAC (username DurocShark), the Woodnet forums (same username), or leave a comment if you have any questions.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Pentel Mandrel Properly Mounted

Here's a photo of the mandrel being used correctly. I had it between centers in the previous article and using the drill stop instead of using a brass nut.

I'm unsure of the wood being used there, probably a rosewood of some kind. But here's the completed Pentel based pencil.

And finally, an action shot of the HF 2" Scroll Chuck I reviewed here. It runs absolutely true and was a great purchase.

I have some segmented blanks lined up for these pencils that I'll get to next weekend.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Turning a Pentel Pencil

One of the things I've wanted to do ever since I started turning pens was make a Pentel mechanical pencil. The kits out there for making pencils are crap. I've tried a bunch and they've all had serious problems. Some break the lead. Others use a twist mechanism that is too weak to handle a heavy body. And so on.

The reliable Pentel pencils I've had over the years have none of those problems. They just work. Repeatedly. For years.

Examining the barrel of a Pentel shows it's a pretty simple design. A plastic tube with a narrow bit at the tip. So why couldn't I make my own barrel?

The problem is the narrow opening at the tip. Every time I've tried to make that I've screwed it up. Misalignment, damage during turning, etc. Then I found a seller over on who sold a kit. (NOTE: He's not ready to sell bulk yet. I'll put his info here when he is.)

The kit included a stepped drill bit. The need for the stepped bit is obvious when you look at the stock Pentel barrel. The narrow opening is only at the tip, to allow the nib to be screwed onto the mechanism and bind the barrel in between. That solves the drilling alignment problem.

The kit also included a mandrel with a step matching the drill bit. This solves the problem of damaging the blank during turning and allows it to be securely mounted and aligned.

I also got steel bushings for turning to match the hardware, matching delrin bushings for mounted finishing (CA in particular), a nut for the narrow side of the mandrel, and a brass stop bushing for the drill bit.

I selected a curly maple blank for my first attempt since I have a bunch. I drilled the blank with the step drill and trimmed the nib end until the nib mounted well. See the photo above for a test fitting. I was half tempted to leave it like that just to be odd!

After the test fitting was successful, I mounted everything on the mandrel and mounted that between centers on my lathe. It should be chuck mounted, but I was afraid to screw up the threads on my first use. (After talking to the seller, I found I was supposed to use the brass stop bushing on the drill bit, not the mandrel. I should have read his directions more closely... The info was in there!)

I turned it down to a comfortable shape, if a little heavy. I could have taken it much thinner, but was a bit nervous for my first time.

After sanding to 800 grit I removed it and did a test fit. Ahhh... Nice.

I applied several coats of rattle-can lacquer (I didn't realize the black bushings were delrin, so I didn't do a CA finish.) After letting it cure overnight I hit it with the buffer and assembled.

The pics that follow are how it looked after assembly. Placing the clip was a bit hairy. I was worried about scratching the finish. So I used a drill bit that was a bit larger than the wood barrel to slip the clip on from the top. That worked great!

I love how it looks, and that I can now use a mechanical pencil I'm proud to say I made, instead of some plastic (or stainless steel, in the case of my Parker pencil) thing.

I will be doing many more I think!