Colored Stacking Blocks

Some big changes are coming to the household. We have a tiny kilt coming soon! He will be born in September, so it is time to start making some toys and baby/toddler furniture. The nature of this blog will probably still mostly focus on my projects, but it might eventually include collaborations between me and the offspring. How old do you have to be to start learning to use power tools? 4 or 5 maybe?

Until then, I have a lot of time in the shop now, due to the pandemic. I won’t once the baby comes, so let’s get started on a bunch of stash busting projects and make some toys and furniture. My first project is something simple. A stacking block game. I found a board of poplar that would suffice. Each block is about 1/2″ smaller than the previous. They get a hole drilled in the center and all the edges rounded over.

I bought a variety of craft paints to make these and other projects more colorful and appealing to kids. Truth be told, this was the hardest part. Painting everything with multiple coats, cleaning the sponges, keeping the paints separated and whatnot.

I wrote a little note on the bottom of the block set base, but the spray coat of shellac I threw on there mostly blurred it away. As it turns out, even the industrial sharpies are susceptible to ethel alcohol. Next time I will have to spray lacquer over any ink-work to preserve it before using shellac. My wonderful wife’s grandfather would always write notes on the things he built, so I am going to take up the tradition. The wood, paint and shellac is all kid friendly and benign should someone start using these as teething devices.

BBQ Sign

I have a cooking corner on the porch. It has my grill, smoker, and the griddle cook-top out there. I wanted a kind of old western style sign to help indicate the area. Blacksmithed letters and old wood are the look I was going for. I don’t do much metal work but figured I could cut some basic letters if I had to. I started by 3D printing a B and a Q in the font I wanted. The print only acted as a tracing template, but it help me set the scale of the project and pick the right wood. I started with a jigsaw, but had trouble with the sharp turns I needed.

I tried using a friend’s plasma cutter but got pretty rotten results. Also I am not very good with a plasma cutter as it turns out. I found a cheap nibbler and ended up going that route. The nibbler is a little round punch that oscillates in and out and is powered by your drill. It can start from and edge and cut a swath, or if you drill a starter hole it can do inside curve work. It is hard to get right up to a line, and often you are left with little round cutouts as shown below.

I slowly went through and cut all the pieces out. I was showered in a sea of little crescent shaped metal debris. Those things are sharp as heck! A good magnet sweep is a must for a nibbler. After the roughing pass I used a carbide bit on my dremel to take everything up to the layout lines. The final result was pretty good. Only a few errant nibbler bites were present. To help add authenticity I heated the letters up with a torch to darken them.

After the heat treatment I picked out a piece of cypress and coated everything in boiled linseed oil. The letters got drilled out at points so I could hammer them home with cut nails for the final touches. The firing and oiling got the color of the metal letters about right. As it sits outside on the porch it will continue to age and darken. Overall a pretty nice project once I got the basic metal cutting figured out.

Cherry Entry Table

A little over a year ago some good friends of mine got married. I promised them a wedding present, but seeing as how we had just moved, I told them it was going to be a bit late. A bit late turns out to be a year and a few months. I did finally deliver though!

It is a cherry entry table that sits in their foyer. I made it somewhat tall because you would be standing next to it when you put things down, and narrow so it didn’t obstruct their entrance. I spent a lot of time at the drawing book coming up with ratios and ideas. I mostly stuck with them as well, only adjusting the width of the frame slightly.

It all started with a large 8/4 piece of cherry. I wanted this thickness for a bookmatched table top, thicker legs, and wrap around apron that all matched. I had some sapwood to deal with, but was able to mill most of it away and hide what was left on the inside of the aprons. Below are the three hunks that made up the entire table.

I cut the legs out first and milled them all square. I put down painter’s tape and marked out the location of the mortises. The tape is a copy of Mike Pekovich’s blue tape trick for dovetails. I still haven’t cut dovetails that way, but it sure does make mortises obvious. I mark everything with knives, then peel away the center section that will get cut.

Next I went around with a paring chisel and undercut the edges to help the chisel register on the sides and not cut any wider than is needed. Then it is just a matter if slowly chopping from one side to the other and back until you start to reach the proper depth.

The mortises all went pretty well. I made the legs extra long so I could cut some test ones and chop off the excess. After I had all the mortises cut I did the tenons. I used a similar tape technique to help visually guide the cuts. I cut a number of test ones and was happy with my progress. When I finally got to the last round I was going to shoot pictures of the process. Everything fell apart. Despite all the practice I couldn’t cut straight to save my life. I ended up cutting the whole frame down a little from the original plans because of the screwed up tenons. These two pics are all that remain of the process.

Once I finally decided they were good enough, or just gave up on trying to cut more, I dry fit everything together. Some of the fits are looser than I wanted, but It ought to hold together. Baby baby hold together.

With the legs cut to length I could go about tapering them. Probably a quick job on the bandsaw, but I went for the scrub plane. It made a huge mess, but was a good workout.

The outside two faces of the legs are straight, the inside two faces taper in almost up to the mortise at a ratio of 2:1. This gives the tape a really slim light appearance and guides the eye to the top.

Speaking of the top, I glued it together early in the project. The top side is bookmatched and has a lovely pattern that looks like angel wings. To further lighten the design I did an underside chamfer. The ratio was 2:3 with the thickness of the table top being subdivided into 3. Two units were removed from the edge leaving a thinner profile, and the slope went back 3 units. The layout is done with dividers and a marking gauge, so I don’t know the actual dimensions, just the ratios.

This chamfering was tested with the table top left extra long so I could get the hang of it with a few extra practice cuts. With a bevel up plane it was really easy. I made super thin (around 0.01″ or just a few sheets of paper) edge grain shavings. I have focused a lot on learning to sharpen in the past, and it is paying off now.

With the lines drawn I was able to accurately plane away the material and hit both marks just by eye. No special jigs needed! I did the end grain sections and proceeded to the long grain portions.

The last thing I had to do before finishing and assembling was put in some hardware to hold the table top down. A big flat sawn piece like the table top will want to move with the seasons. Trying to stop it is folly. Using the figure 8 brackets with oversized holes, I can attach the top to the apron and allow it to shift slightly with moisture movement. I started by drilling the first one on the outside face… DOH! Probably my only permanent mistake of the project aside from some slight dimension changes.

With everything setup I could glue the parts together now, then apply finish as I have often done in the past. Instead I finished everything in pieces. It made finishing easier because the small parts are all simple and don’t have hidden corners. As long as you keep it off the glue surfaces, everything will be fine. As a bonus, if you get glue squeeze out it comes off the finish easily. Waterlox’s wipe on varnish is a joy to work with.

After that all that was left was to screw the top on, buff with some wax, and deliver to the still happily married couple.

DIY Cleaning Wipes

Everyone seems to be in clearing out the store of all available cleaning products. Specifically the disinfecting wet wipes are GONE! I am no health expert, but the CDC says that general disinfectants and anything with alcohol over 60% is effective against covid19. Where does one get that now that the stores have all been cleaned out?

Easy, go to the hardware store and get denatured alcohol. From what I have found, any of the “green” denatured alcohols available from hardware stores are 80-90% ethanol. The non-green versions are about half ethanol and half methanol. Probably decent at killing germs, but not as safe to be using on yourself. Our local Lowe’s sells the Jasco brand and their SDS lists the ingredients. A small amount of that on a paper towel or rag should act as a highly effective cleaner for a really cheap price. I just picked a quart up for 7 or 8 bucks, though the website doesn’t seem to have it. They had a full shelf of the stuff when I was there.

Acrylic Paint 3D Printing Inlay

I have made multiple attempts at colored inlay with 3D printing and CnC milling in the past. My best results have been with epoxy resin and dye. It is hard to work with. Either you slop it on or pipe it in with a syringe. Slopping it on runs the risk of voids and has a lot of surface cleanup. Using a syringe has better control, but the stuff kicks off quickly when placed in a container like that. I had experimented with Acrylic paints in the past with only modest success. I tried again on my 3D prints and had a bit of a breakthrough.

I picked up some craft acrylic paint for general purpose use. It comes in a bottle and is the consistency of ranch dressing. The previous stuff I worked with was in a tube and was very thick I poured some black into a 3cc syringe and piped it into a cavity of my 3D print.

I started with a 25 gauge straight needle, but the paint flowed too freely and I ran over on one of the parts. I dropped down to a 30 gauge needle and had a lot more success. The paint flows in, sticks well to everything, and doesn’t appear to run. You can use the needle to guide it up to a wall if it didn’t quite reach everywhere.

These prints are my corner radius templates for the router table. The text is face up and have 3 perimeters. Not sure if it will bleed through 2 perimeters or not. I suspect if you had inset text on the side of a print it would seep out and run along the Z-layers. I haven’t tried it yet though. If you do happen to run over, the paint wicks down into the top layer and never comes fully out. Sealing it with a spray lacquer, before you paint, might fill the gaps and buy margin for error. I was just really careful and used a small needle after the first screw-up.

Once I got the hang of it I didn’t make any more mistakes and was able to fill them out in a minute or two each part. Maybe some day I will get a multi-color capable printer, but until then, this is a really easy effective method of adding color to inlaid text on 3D prints.

Surprise Bandsaw Repair

There are few events in life quite as thrilling as having your bandsaw throw a tire. And by thrilling, I mean terrifying! I flipped on my trusty porter cable 14″ saw and instead of a steady hum it had a terrible screech and roar. The top tire (rubber band that goes around the wheel and contacts the cutting band) split and set the blade loose. After 8 years of service, I guess it was time. The bottom tire was still in good shape, and that is where the motor is, so it still managed to drag the blade around inside the tool.

I feel like I switched it off pretty quickly, but I may have been in shock for a few seconds. The time that it did take me was enough for the wild blade to lurch forward and start cutting into the guard just above the top guide bearings. It cut through the metal guard and left a gash a few inches tall. Metal shavings were all over the tape top. The teeth are a heavy set tungsten carbide for ripping, so they are quite capable in soft metals. I did manage to chip a few teeth in the process.

Those blades are expensive enough that I was worried I would have to trash it. Luckily a few missing teeth out of 100 doesn’t appear to make that big of a deal. I opened everything up, pulled the blade out and ordered new parts. The top tire obviously needed replacing, and the new ones were a shiny blue! The bottom one looked worn and yellowed, so I replaced it too.

Last but not least I found the part number for the blade guard and ordered extras just in case. With the guards and throat plate replaced all was right with the world. The horrible screech was returned to its usual purr.

Pallet Wood Florida

I am not really into the shabby chic movement as a whole. I guess it is good to repurpose things, but it isn’t really my style. That said, I have seen some cool pallet art that is of different states made out of random bits of wood. I liked this idea and decided to go with it. My rock project came in on 10 pallets, so there was no shortage in available materials.

I started by using my mini projector to project a silhouette of Florida onto a sheet of butcher paper. It is such a weirdly shaped state that I had to add a little panhandle extension to the paper. I traced the shape while making simplifications for all the waterways, and cut it out.

With a serviceable template in hand I headed to the shop and set about tracing it onto a sheet of 1/2″ plywood. I wanted this to serve as the backbone of the sign. I didn’t want it to show up around the edges, so after tracing it I offset the line inwards to hide it behind the pallet parts.

With that cut I assembled pieces of pallet from my collection in the rough shape of Florida. I used the template to make sure I had enough coverage. I clamped them together and again traced the outline.

Now I can go through and trim up each individual piece to shape. It took a lot of time with a jigsaw and my spindle sander, but I got the shapes I wanted. A heavy smear of glue and a lot of pin nails holds all the pallet pieces down to the plywood I cut earlier. The plywood is recessed enough that you can’t even tell it is there from the front.

I gave everything a super thick coating of Boiled Linseed Oil and let it dry. A wire across the back acts as hanging gear where I put it up on the porch. It makes a really nice addition in the corner where I have my grill and smoker sitting.