welcome to my blog

designing and building with wood channels my creativity and challenges my mind.
This blog is a record of my life in my studio.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Festool TS 75 plunge cut circular saw review

The Festool TS 75 plunge cut saw is a big circular saw.  So big, in fact, that my contractor friend Kris doesn't much like it.  He's used to wielding his 5" Makita freehand - driving it up walls and across sheet goods with ease.  The TS 75 is more suited to riding on one of Festool's aluminum guide rails, like some new breed of panel saw.

And here the TS 75 performs as well as I could ask.  I have used the TS 75 to melt through sheet goods.  I used it to size my bench top, which was made from two layers of 3/4" MDF, one layer of 3/4" plywood, and 1/4" of hardboard.  That's 2 1/2" of dense material.  But the TS 75, with it riving knife backing up the blade, made short work of it, with blade capacity to spare.

Festool Rotex Sander Review

I have been using my Festool Rotex sander for about a year now, and I love it.  The Rotex is special because of its two sanding modes: gear-driven circular mode, and a traditional orbital mode.  I use the gear mode to hog off material, as in smoothing or shaping the work.  Since buying the Rotex, my belt sander hasn't seen the fluorescent light of my shop.  If I'm sanding a big panel, I'll start in gear mode with 80 grit, then proceed up to 180 in gear mode.  Then I switch to orbital mode and go over the piece again at 180, then to 220.  I finish off with 220 and 320 by hand, using my handy sanding block with a Velcro sole.  I recommend the Rotex for anybody in the market for an orbital sander, and especially somebody in the market for a single sander that can do as much as possible.  You might never buy a hand-held belt sander once you have a Rotex.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

the perfect gift

A friend of mine - Vicco Von Voss - is a master furniture maker and timber framer.  He works out of a studio on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, where he gets much of his lumber stock from fallen trees on his property and that of neighbors.  Vicco's projects can be quite large, and he uses premium lumber.  As a result, his scrap lumber is like manna from heaven to a guy like me.  So when he brought up a truckload of lumber from his personal stockpile, I was overjoyed.

Among the treasures were a walnut crotch, a dozen large pieces of walnut veneer, cherry veneer, and eight walnut boards from a flitch he milled himself.  All of the lumber was air dried on his property.  To learn more about Vicco and his work, visit his website at http://www.viccovonvoss.com/

Thanks Vicco!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Review of 3 Drills: Ridgid Fuego, DeWalt DC720, and Festool 15+3

My fav: The Festool 15+3
I have three drills in my shop: a Ridgid Fuego mini drill, a larger DeWalt DC720, and a Festool 15+3.  This post is a "light" anecdotal review of each of these drills, all of which I have used extensively in my shop.  In case you don't want to read this whole review, here are the highlights:

Ridgid Fuego: Small drill claims 250 inch-pounds of max torque.  Chuck has fairly significant run-out, which is only an issue where precise drilling is necessary.  But a slew of broken bits may have something to do with the run-out.  List price: $100.  Used: $50

DeWalt DC 720: larger drill claims over 1,000 inch-pounds of torque, but feels and acts as powerful as the Festool 15+3, which claims 350 inch-pounds of torque.  One of the two batteries stopped working only a month after purchase.  No battery guarantee.  Never got it replaced.  List Price: $200.  Used: $50

Festool 15+3: larger drill has three chucks, allowing it to act as a right-angle driver.  Also comes with depth-stop chuck for precise drilling.  No run-out at all, for perfectly sized holes and no broken bits.  My experience with Festool's impeccable service gives me confidence I won't be left with a hunk of junk should something break.  My experience with Festool tells me breakage is unlikely.   List price: $460.  Used Price: $360.

Verdict: The Festool 15+3 goes anywhere the Fuego can, but is more powerful and more accurate.  At a price of $360-$460 it's far more expensive than the others.  But throw in the price of a right angle driver to augment the DeWalt and Ridgid's capabilities, and the price doesn't look so bad.  Throw in the price of poorly-made holes and broken bits, and the Festool starts to look pretty competitive.  Add in the fact that Festool won't let you go more than a few days without a working tool, and Festool distributors are local stores with great service, and I think the 15+3 is the best overall value.

"Fish" stand now on sale at Skipton's

My ash and maple "fish" stand is now on sale at Skipton Unique Aquaria and Reptiles.  It's made for a 20 gallon "tall" tank.  I cut the door decorations on my band saw.  The stand features a front cabinet door with soft-close hidden European hinges.

Frame and Panel Case Tips: Rattle-Free Panels

I use frame and panel construction for many of my cases.  There are a few well-known rules of good frame and panel case-making that ensure a warp-free, durable case.  In case my readers are unfamiliar with these rules, they are:
  1. The grooves in the frame parts (rails and stiles) should be centered on the edge of the frame parts, and at least 1/4" from the edge.  
  2. The depth of the frame grooves should be no deeper than the distance of the groove from the edges of the frame part.  This ensures the frame is strong enough stand up to use and abuse.
  3. The tongues of the panel should not reach all the way to the bottoms of the grooves in the frame parts.  This allows for side-to-side expansion of the panel and the frame.  If the panel DOES touch the bottoms of the grooves, any expansion of the parts will result in warping of the assembly.
  4. If using a solid-wood panel, the grooves in the frame should be slightly wider than the tongue on the panel.  This lets the panel get thicker (due to seasonal movement), without splitting the frame parts. 
  5. Don't glue the panel into the frame!

Monday, April 11, 2011

My bosch 1617 Router Review

My Bosch 1617 router was the first tool I purchased in my woodworking "career".  I got it some 13 months ago, one month longer than the standard factory warranty.  The on/off switch on this router broke yesterday, making now a great time for me to submit my review of this tool.

Why I bought it in the first place:
I bought the Bosch 1617 combo package from my local Rockler store for a few good reasons:  first, it's a 2.25 HP router, which is fairly powerful for a general purpose router.  Second, the combo package comes with both a fixed base (for use in a router table) and a plunge base (for use in hand-held applications).  Third, the 1617 is priced very well: i still can't find a 2.25 HP router with both types of base for the price of the 1617 combo pack: around $230.  The 1617 came with wrenches, and two collets: a 1/4" and a 1/2".

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Eden's Bird House

My daughter has started taking a wood shop class at the Eliot School for Fine Arts in Jamaica Plain, MA.  Of course she likes wood shop, 'cuz she loves her daddy :)

But the real reason she's taking the class is because I am training under the teacher Mario Rubio, so that I can start teaching wood shop to kids at the Eliot School nine weeks from now.  We had a great time at the first class session, and Mario is an excellent teacher.  But Eden and I decided to do a little practicing on our own this weekend, so on Saturday we fired up the studio and got to work on a bird house.

First we marked out our plywood for the walls, roof, and floor of the bird house.  This was also when Eden made the preliminary sketches for the exterior, which she plans to paint later.  She's a natural!  Now, our bird house is ready to go, except for some dowels for the birds to sit on (their front porch, as it were), and putting on the roof, which we have left off so that Eden can install some bird furniture later.

My best work so far.  Thanks Eden!

Friday, April 8, 2011

The best gap filler - my DIY solution

Filling gaps is a regular part of making furniture.  there are the inevitable gaps between joints, and sometimes even open knots or holes in an otherwise great piece of wood.  What do we use to fill these gaps?  There are gap fillers on the market, but I don't know what's in them.  They come in a variety of colors, and I've used them a lot.  But I don't want to buy a can of filler every time I need to fill a gap in a joint, and besides, the colors they come in are only approximate - they don't necessarily match the wood I'm using.

So today, when I needed to fill some gaps in a cherry cabinet I'm making, I decided to make my own filler.  The process is easy, and similar in principle to filling pores in wood grain:

slurry on pad
my dust source
mixing the dust and shellac
de-waxed shellac is a must
the line is darker at first
the line has almost disappeared
once the varnish is on, the line disappears
first, I took some sawdust from my drum sander, which I had just used to sand the panels of my cherry cabinet.  I then mixed this dust with some 100% de-waxed shellac, forming a slurry.  finally, I wet a cloth pad with the slurry, and packed the dust/shellac mix into the gaps I needed to fill.  Before putting on the varnish, the packed gap is a little darker than the raw wood around it.  But once the varnish goes on, the color match is almost perfect.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

My first raised panels

Raised panels: most people don't think much about them, and many perhaps never noticed that some cabinet doors have them and some don't.  What's a raised panel?  Well, first I should say that many cabinet doors are made in a "frame and panel" fashion, where four narrow frame members form the outside edges of a rectangle, and hold between them a panel that's more or less flat.  The panel is secured within the frame by means of a groove that runs around the inside edges of each frame member; a "tongue" around the outside edge of the panel slips into this groove.

The Shakers, whose design aesthetic is still popular today, preferred to use flat panels: panels that appeared to be the same thickness throughout, and therefore were flat-faced.  Their reason?  The Shakers eschewed any frilly design elements that served no function.  Thankfully, flat panels are easily made from flat pieces of plywood, making it easy to design and build shaker-style frame-and-panel cabinets with inexpensive materials.

90 Gallon "Tall" stand now on sale at Skipton's

My most recent 90 gallon aquarium stand is now on sale at Skipton Unique Aquaria and Reptiles.  The stand is a big improvement over my last 90 gallon stand: I used 1/2" plywood panels this time, rather than 1/4" panels, and I made a removable center "light block bar".  The light block bar allows me to build the stand with regular overlay doors and block any gaps between the doors (so you can't see what's in the cabinet), but then get full-width access to the cabinet when you need to add or remove a big sump. 

I also improved my finishing technique with this stand.  I used water-based black stain first (way better coverage than oil-based black), then sprayed on two coats of clear polycrylic, dyed black with Trans-Tint water-soluble black dye.  I have nearly perfected my air pressure/fluid tip/ air cap settings to spray this water-borne finish smoothly and without flaws.

...and now you don't!
now you see the center bar...

Nano aquarium pedestal stand in cherry

I am making a pedestal stand for a "nano" aquarium - a tank only 11" cubed.  I'm using some really nice cherry for this stand, which I expect will go into a nice home on Beacon Hill somewhere ;-)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Mahogany and Bamboo Stand now on Sale at Skipton's

My recent Mahogany & Bamboo cabinet stand - for either 40 gallon "breeder" or 65 gallon "standard" tank - is now on sale at Skipton Unique Aquaria and Reptiles in Boston MA. 

The black trim on standard tanks doesn't match the mahogany very well, so I am looking into a way to "skin" standard tanks with hardwood trim, to match any stand or home decor.

A special message from US Plastic Corp.

I am trying out a new technique for aquarium canopies: using PVC angle iron for the "feet" of the canopy, where the canopy rests on the top lip of the tank.  I wanted to use plastic instead of wood, since saltwater spray is inevitable so close to the water's surface.  Searching online, I found the best price for PVC angle at US Plastic Corp, and I ordered two 5-foot lengths. 

The product was everything I expected - and more: along with my angle iron and receipt came a little booklet: Stories of Hope.  On page 10 was a "Prayer of Acceptance", which US Plastics encouraged me to sign and send back to them, post paid. 

Apparently, US Plastic's CEO is hopeful his booklet's stories of Jesus-driven success will encourage me to likewise give myself to Jesus. 

I thought about writing to US Plastics, to ask them to please not send me religious propaganda along with any future orders.  but then I realized: If I do that, then I'll just be another one of those kooks. 

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Spraying Black Stain: Special Techniques

Expanding my knowledge of how to spray different finishes through an HVLP system, I decided to spray black water-borne stain on a 90-gallon aquarium stand I'm making for a local aquarium store.  I decided to use black stain not just for giggles - I'm also experimenting with a number of different ways to achieve a nice black finish on cabinets.  I've tried a few already: oil-based black stain and varnish (troublesome), latex paint and polycrylic (sticky), and black-pigmented polycrylic over grey latex primer (the best so far).

My only problem with using black-pigmented polycrylic is that it masked the grain of the wood.  This isn't a bad thing per se, but I wanted to find another option that would allow the grain the show through, while still getting a jet-black color.

So I loaded half a can of black water-borne stain into my HVLP pot, and started up the turbine.  Of course, it took a little trial and error to dial in the proper air pressure, using a garden hose flow-control valve on the air hose.  Then I adjusted the pin travel on the gun, and the amount of air coming out of the air cap.  Eventually, I had good settings, and the spraying was going well, with minimum overspray and good coverage, with no splattering.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Finishing the "Fish" stand - brushing is for the birds!

How many times can I say this? I LOVE my 3M/Accuspray HVLP spray finishing system!  Yesterday I finished building a rolling fan/filter and some knock-down walls for my shop spray booth.  Today, I sprayed water-borne clear coat onto my mahogany aquarium stand and my "fish" stand

As I get better at spraying, and I learn more about how to use the various parameters of the spray system to spray more types of finish, I wonder if I'll ever brush or rub a finish again. 

Mahogany and Bamboo stand is complete

I have finished spraying the finish onto my mahogany and bamboo aquarium stand.  It's built for a 40 gallon "breeder" tank.  It features a single door.  To open the door, you simply push on it, and it springs open.  Close the door, and it latches closed.  This stand was my first attempt at making curved panel parts on the band saw, which I followed with the curved parts for my "fish stand".  The Mahogany came from some thick scrap I had purchased for $2 board/foot from Rockler in Cambridge.

I love my 3M/Accuspray support rep!

I just want to give a little shout out to Duane at 3M/Accuspray for all of his help.  When I first bought my Accuspray HVLP system - used - I didn't know much about spray finishing, or HVLP.  When I called tech support at 3M (owner of Accuspray), I expected to get a small amount of information, perhaps a manual in the mail.  Instead, I got Duane, who is by far the best support person I have ever had the pleasure of speaking with.

Duane spent a good two hours on the phone with me,

Why it's good to keep junk parts

Last week, when I ended my lease on my storage space next door to my shop, my main space was flooded with junk: old tools, scrap wood, and other miscellany.  Some of the redundant tools I was able to sell.  Some of the scrap wood I gave to a neighbor.  But when it came to an old wide belt sander with a frozen drive pulley, I decided to junk it rather than try and fix it.  I poached the motor (a good 1HP, continuous rated one), and put the cast-iron sander mount and stand out in the hallway, in the hope somebody with an interest in old iron tool parts might take it.

A few days later, the parts were still in the hall, and I was glad they were, because something was telling me I'd be able to use that mounting bracket for something.