Monday, November 29, 2010

Box-O-Chaos Project

In my shop, some projects get completed almost as soon as I think of them, while others need to wait. Some wait a long, long time. This one has been waiting for 10 years.

Here's the back story:

We used to live in Bend OR. When it was time to move back to Alaska, we packed every cubic inch of both our vehicles, had a major yard sale, and packed everything else into the maximum allowable size boxes and mailed them. We had been going great guns for several days to be out on schedule, and some things just kept slipping through the cracks.

The afternoon of our departure I realized that there was a rocking chair just sitting there in the living room. How had we missed that? There was no way it could get added to the "take along" list. There was absolutely no room in the cars (none - I'm surprised we could breathe in there), and all possible space on top of the cars was already full. I didn't want to leave it, because while it might not be a great piece of furniture, it was the first furniture we had bought together as a couple. Nope, it had to make it to Alaska. All I had to do was disassembled it, with no tools (packed), get it to fit into the last remaining box, and make it to the post office before they closed (20 minutes). No problem.

So, I gently took that chair apart on the front lawn using a Swiss Army knife and a hunk of firewood as a club. I shoved it into the box and handed it over to the USPS with at least three minutes to spare. Then it was North to Alaska!

Back to the present:

As I am moving great heaps of stuff around in the garage I find myself looking at a large, unopened cardboard box. I was wondering what it could be, when two thoughts hit me in quick succession. First, it's got to be the missing rocker. Second, I could fix it up for a Christmas present for my wife.

So I open the box and this is what I see:

Wow. Looks like someone smashed a chair apart with a piece of firewood or something.

Oh, but wait, it's not that bad. I found the original fasteners randomly floating around in the bottom of the box.

Okay, so I've got my work cut out for me. This is going to be close - wish me luck.

PS - Just to avoid any confusion, this rocker-in-a-box should in no way be confused with the other rocker-in-a-box project I have in the hopper. They are very different. For one thing, that one is actually in three boxes. For another, it has only been sitting in the shop for slightly more than one year. And finally, that rocker is from Oregon, while this one is from... never mind.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Revealed! - The Mystery Wooden Object's Secret Identity!

"Now let's see who the Mystery Wooden Object really is!"
"Why it's old Mr. Wilson - the caretaker of the amusement park!"
"Yes, and I'd have gotten away with it too, if it wasn't for you meddling kids..."


Oops! Sorry, that was from the Scooby Doo edition of this post - don't know how that snuck in here...

Okay - are you ready?

(Click here first if you haven't read the previous two relevant posts)

The Mystery Wooden Object (MWO) is...

...a Pakistani Cow Amulet! Yes! What?

Congratulations Regis! You are the clear winner:
"Looks like a cow bell. Maybe that darker square insert in the back holds the "bells" inside. Or an ornament to put around an animal's neck."How did you come up with that anyway? Email me your address and I'll send you your prize!

Okay, so when Kaija called me, she had just been to a little store back East, which she describes as being a "woodsy/crafty/chotsky with a smattering of international groovy stuff" type store. While perusing the goods, she came up short in front of a small tray full of MWOs! The accompanying signage simply stated, "Pakistani Cow Amulets."

Here's what she saw:

Well, after talking to Kaija, I called the store to pump them for information. They didn't really have much. About all they knew was that they were some kind of amulet worn by cows to help keep them safe. Hmm.

Armed with this new knowledge I called Uncle Google and had a long, long chat. It took awhile, but here's a summary of what I found out:

(And remember - "It's on the internet, so it must be true!")

Mostly associated with the Swat Valley in Pakistan (but covering a much wider region of Pakistan and Afghanistan, at least according to some sources) these amulets are believed to protect and identify livestock - possibly cows, but more likely goats or sheep. They are worn around the neck of the animal. Some are very simple, with no carving and just the hole at the top for the cord to pass through. Others are carved in ancient patterns (said to be Buddhist designs by one source). Still others go to a higher level of protection - incorporating a small chamber containing a prayer or blessing from a local religious leader. Apparently, after the animal is slaughtered, the amulet is used on another animal - which means some of the amulets are very old. Types of wood mentioned were cedar and rosewood.

Well, that explained just about everything I (we) had noticed about the MWO. I was right about the wear pattern inside the through mortise, only I was picturing it upside-down with the rope or fabric at the bottom, while in reality the amulet hung from the cord, not the other way around. And the square of wood in the back was not a cut off tenon - it is the plug to the hollowed-out chamber. Cool!

Kaija graciously went back to the store and picked up a few of the MWO's cousins for me. Here is a set of "reunion" photos:

You can see the range of details. Only one has a plug. Only two have any carving - one with a triangular design (upper left - the same one that has the plug) and one with a simple series of kerfs cut in the sides (lower left - five kerfs on one side, and six on the other). One has almost the exact same shape as my original, but no plug, no carving and is generally more "rough". In fact, all of these seem a bit more primitive than my first one.

Of course, I have a ton of new questions. Who makes these? Are they made by a specialist (town woodworker or carver?), or by the church, or are they made by the owner of the livestock? What kind of wood is it? It sure doesn't look like cedar (well, N. American cedar isn't really cedar anyway, so how would I know?) or rosewood. Are they still being made/used? How did these end up here? Why weren't they reused? How old are they?

If you have any insight, please post a comment. But for now, I'm satisfied - and the MWO is no longer a MWO. It is a Pakistani livestock amulet.

Finally, I have no idea if these things really work, but it just might explain the increased frequency of this kind of occurrence at our house:

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Yet Another Use For Handscrews

Here's another frequent task in my shop that a handscrew accomplishes with ease. Whenever I brand a creation, I use a propane torch to heat my branding iron. My torch is rather tippy and a handscrew gently tightened at an angle around the base, trapping the cylinder between the two jaws and the front screw, much like a bit in a three jawed chuck, holds it nicely. This setup gives it the hands-free stability I need to safely ignore it and focus on not messing up the branding process.

I guess you could do something similar with another type of clamp, but the round gas tank would make getting a firm hold, without squeezing too hard, a challenge. Also, the handscrew, with its large flat faces, makes for a more stable footprint than other clamps.

PS - The fire extinguisher is just out of photo to the left - in my shop, when the torch comes out to play, so does the extinguisher.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Real Wood Beats Plywood, But Plywood Beats Pegboard

Well, at least nice birch plywood beats pegboard.

I have two of those metal shelving units (or are they carts?), the ubiquitous chromed ones, that I use for tool storage. The bottom shelves on each unit have pull-out trays, and the top two shelves are, well, shelves. A long time ago I cut pegboard liners for the shelves so the planes and other tools that lived there wouldn't be resting on the metal racks. I can't remember why I used pegboard, but it probably had something to do with having it on hand.

Anyway, it has worked fine, but has never really made me happy. Well, as part of the ongoing "get rid of stuff that doesn't fit/belong in my shop" offensive, I found a solution. I discovered some thin birch plywood that needed to earn its keep or hit the road. Well, I'm not a fan of plywood, but it does have its uses and clearly this stuff was more aesthetically pleasing than pegboard, so I made the switch.

Not hard at all, since each fitted piece of pegboard was used as a template for the new liner. Here are some shots of the upgrade.



Definitely an improvement in my eyes.

The bigger picture:

It's funny how a small change can have a major impact that seems out of proportion. In this case I think the change from pegboard to birch ply improves the whole corner of the shop. Cool!

The tools:

Not much to it really: Japanese style saw for cutting the thin plywood (using a very low angle helps minimize flex and chatter), hand drill for boring the oak lip peg holes (if you spin the drill counter-clockwise for a bit, it will get you started without tearing out the thin birch veneer, then switch to normal clockwise operation), and a rat-tail rasp for creating the clearance notches for the shelving unit's railings on the back of each shelf. In the background, you can see the old pegboard liner which I used to trace everything onto the plywood. You can also see how handy it is to have your sawbench and shavehorse the same height. This is especially true when working with full sheets of plywood.

The next pegboard to be removed will be the backing on my tool panels, which will be replaced by real wood. I already did the saw panel, which you can read about here and here, but it's time to finish the rest.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Short, Easy Project in Seven Steps

The other day I had about one hour to spend in the shop. Now, I've got dozens of projects that I need to work on (with building a door for the shop at the top of the list), but none of them are the kind that one hour would get very far into. So I decided to reload the CD player with some fresh jazz while I figured out what to do.

As I was listening to Roy and Diz, and puttering around the shop, I kept going back to the CD case to find out the name of a tune, composer etc. After about the third time the thought occurred to me: "Hmm, it would be nice to have a little stand thingy to hold the CD up at a convenient angle for reading." And there it was, a short easy project that I could complete from start to finish in what was left of my hour.

Here's how to make something useful (sort of) in a very short amount of time - in just seven steps.

Step One - rustle up a chunk of suitable scrap:

I just grabbed a short length of 1x3, but something fancier would be fun.

Step Two - clean up all the surfaces of said scrap with a smoothing plane:

Step Three - select a moulding plane and stick a decorative edge:

In this case, after digging through my moulding samples I selected a small astragal and cove profile made by "I. Cox" (which coincidentally is the very same plane featured in the previous link). Now that I think about it, it might actually be a quirk, bead and cove profile. Wait, maybe it's a fillet, bead, fillet and cove. Oh bother!

Step Four - plow a groove wide enough and deep enough to hold the CD at the desired angle:

I just guessed and plowed a 5/8" wide groove, which needed to be 1/2" deep for things to work out right.

Step Five - cut to length:

Step Six - Optional - decide to fix a flaw in the moulding profile (created by sloppy, rushed technique) by planing a bevel with a shoulder plane:

A side-by-side comparison between the new profile of bevel, quirk, bead and cove or is it fillet, bead - (oh never mind) and the original sample on the right.

Step Seven - oil it up and admire the final product:

Not a very necessary creation of course, but since when has that been a consideration? Do you really need a reason to have fun in the shop? No.

And the complete tool set (minus the sticking board):

Really, this project could be made with only four tools: smoothing plane, plow plane, moulding plane and saw. Or even just three if you skipped the moulding and just went with a bevel. The Phillips head screwdriver is for adjusting my sticking board screw-stops, while the slot head screwdriver is for adjusting the #45 multiplane - neither would be needed if you used used a different plow and work holding system. There really is no layout required, as you can size everything with the CD case itself - so the folding rule, the square and the marking knife could easily be left on the shelf. And of course, if you were more careful than I was with your moulding plane, there would be no need for the shoulder plane.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Solved! Mystery Wooden Object Identified - Teaser.

"Make Way! Blow the trumpets!" The Mystery Wooden Object has been identified! Yes!

I've said before that I love mysteries, and I love them even more when they get solved. This one took over two years, which only makes it that much sweeter.

Back in July of 2008 I wrote a post about the Mystery Wooden Object and asked readers for help in identifying it. Some interesting ideas were bounced around, but there was no breakthrough.

Then, a couple of months ago my niece Kaija (of Kaija's Project fame) called me from the East Coast with the big news: she had a hard lead on the answer, in fact she was standing in front of a small pile of my Mystery Wooden Object's cousins!

Well, after talking to her and doing some additional research, I now know quite a bit about the MWO - which I will share in a future post.

I thought it might be fun to see if anyone wanted to take one last shot at identifying it. As an incentive, I'll send my spare copy of Making Authentic Craftsman Furniture to the first person who pegs it, or to whoever gets closest before I spill the beans.

Here are some newer shots to mull over:

And one of the prize:

Good luck! And one hint - forget about the East Coast connection. It's more than a bit of a red herring...

Sunday, November 7, 2010

More Exciting Shop Changes - and some thoughts on books.

Progress! Wahoo! It's really starting to feel like a shop again!

The big ex-government desk was moved into place (thanks to my brothers) and became the focal point for the "office" end of the shop. Three new shelves were installed and the ever growing woodworking library was relocated to the shop, where it belongs.

It's pretty amazing the energy that those books possess - when I step through the doorway they just turn my head and make me smile. Have I mentioned that I love books? It was pretty cool, just yesterday I was watching the latest Woodwright's Shop on PBS and Roy was talking about influential woodworking books. Of the books he discussed, I have all but one in my collection.

I love learning, and am thankful for the internet and all I have learned through it, but nothing compares to holding a book in your hands. Plus, with older books, there's the whole "Who has held this book before me?" question to ponder and you have a tangible link to the past. It's a little hard to explain maybe, but it's similar to the difference between electric baseboard and a woodstove - both will heat the room, but there's just no confusing the two energy wise.

If you are a complete book geek like me, you may want to check out the detailed list of my library: click on the "View My List-O-Books" link in the left navbar or just click here. As always, questions or comments about books are highly encouraged.

Anyway, here are the shots:

There's really only one drawback to the library; it occupies the same wall where I would like to add a window in the future. Here's what I'm missing in that department:

Hmm, I might just have to figure out a way to have both...

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


The other day I posted a picture of the new clamp storage in my shop, and Gye commented about my wooden handscrews. By chance, I was at the same time working on a quick project that presented a particular work holding challenge - one that I solved with the use of handscrews.

The project was a low platform style bed frame for our guest room. I had sworn I would get this done before Celena's mother arrived for the birth of our daughter. Well, Mom's plane arrived, Celena went into labor three days early and we are celebrating the birth of our second child while the unfinished bed frame sits out in the shop and Rebecca is gamely sleeping on the floor - well, on a mattress on the floor, but still.

I needed to joint the edges of some Doug Fir 2x12s for the frame. I do most of my edge jointing in the face vice, but these were too big and heavy for that technique to work (although, if I had a deadman...). I will also edge joint on the benchtop with the stock pushed up against a dog, but this requires the stock to be rather stable, and on the narrow side so that the plane is closer to the benchtop. These boards were neither stable nor narrow, and the resulting wobbliness combined with the plane being close to shoulder high made things awkward.

Handscrews to the rescue! One handscrew clamped to the stock flush with the benchtop stabilized things considerably, and a second clamping the first to the bench made things very solid.

The dog is keeping the stock from sliding, but you could probably do this with the clamps alone - although if you had a knot to plane like I did, the dog is definitely appreciated.

Anyway, just a quick example of the versatility of handscrews. Gotta love them!