Why Tools…

“And it was after long searching that I found out the carpenter’s chest, which was, indeed, a very useful prize to me, and much more valuable than a shipload of gold would have been at that time. I got it down to my raft, whole as it was, without losing time to look into it, for I knew in general what it contained.”

— Daniel Defoe, from “The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un‐inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver’d by Pyrates.”

Ross Henton

August 2019

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Because, SCIENCE.

Scrounging around on eBay a while back, something caught my eye. An old rip saw – not rare, not beautiful, not exotic… but in obviously good condition once you saw through the neglect. It is (I believe) a Disston D-8, which places it somewhere between 1840-1920.

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It had terrible rust, but the seller had photographed it well enough to show that the applewood handle is intact and uncracked, the teeth are in fine shape – honestly, I don’t think it was sharpened since it was purchased – and the nib is intact. That doesn’t matter all that much except aesthetically, since apparently nobody knows what the nib was actually for.

B

I’ve used one of these in the past. Much as I love my bowsaw (not surprising), there are times I need to make long rip cuts where the frame of the bowsaw gets in the way no matter how I juggle. A rip panel saw is a tool I need a few times a year. But there are problems:

  • Good ones are expensive. They’re fantastically beautiful, but I just don’t use it enough to justify the expense.
  • Cheap ones are awful. They come razor sharp from the factory, but they don’t track well, and they’re a grade of horrible plastic handled monstrosities that I just can’t bear to use.
  • Vintage saws often look like this. Often bent blades, broken handles, rust, broken teeth, missing nib. Not that this one is sold as a “decor piece” for about $64 USD.

The one I found on eBay met all my criteria… for $7.95 + free shipping.

The Journey

My goal wasn’t to make it pretty. It’s not a decoration. I don’t care if the blade is shiny, as long as it’s smooth, straight, sharp, and free of rust. Once the handle was removed, I thought about making a new one out of a beautiful piece of burl mesquite I have on hand.

Why? This one is banged up, but is completely intact, and has no signs of rot. I decided I liked the way it felt… so I cleaned the gunk off with some mineral spirits, gave it a couple of coats of danish oil, and ran it across the Beall Wood Buffer. Voilà.

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The Science Part

Evapo-rust works fine. I’ve used it in the past… but when I tried it on an old tool with an engraving, the etching came out almost indistinguishable from the rest of the tool – not damaged, just exactly the same color. I couldn’t tell if the blade had etching or not (it didn’t). I wanted to try electrolysis on this one. I’d read about the method for a long time, and I had everything on hand.

I’m not going to write in detail about this technique. It’s covered extensively online.

Short version: Washing soda (not baking soda, or salt, or anything else) at about 1 tablespoon per gallon of water. A chunk of steel (the anode) that gets sacrificed in the process. Leads for a battery charger. Negative lead connects to the tool. Positive lead connects to the sacrificial steel anode.

Anode

The Bath

Mandatory points of caution:

  • Don’t let the electrode and the tool touch. That’s a BAD electrical thing.
  • DO NOT USE A STAINLESS STEEL ANODE. IT WILL RELEASE HEXAVALENT CHROMIUM, WHICH IS TOXIC
  • Kinda be careful about electrical leads in water. Like, don’t get your hand across them. Unplug the charger to make adjustments.
  • Don’t smoke. Don’t do it in a confined area. The little bubbles are hydrogen – which can be kinda-sorta-flammable.

How it works: The  sodium carbonate (washing soda) makes the water more conductive. When it’s dissolved in water, it releases becomes sodium ions (Na+) and carbonate ions (CO3 2-) .  These positive and negative charged ions carry the current in solution – the carbonate moves to the anode (positive wire) from the battery charger and sodium moves to the negative wire. The result is that the corrosion and rust moves off the tool to the anode.

Scrubbing Bubbles

Almost immediately after connecting the charger, you’ll see little bubbles rising off the tool. That’s the hydrogen I mentioned earlier. It’s tiny amounts, but I’m still not going to light a cigar around it. After about two hours, the tub looked like this:

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That’s rust and gunk removed from the blade. Gross, but not toxic – you can actually dump the water out on the grass (it’ll love the iron). I had to stop the process and scrape the worst of the debris off the anode, so the electrical connection stayed solid.

This is the 24-hour point:

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The Result

The rust on the blade is replaced by a black patina. It comes off pretty easily with steel wool or scrubbing pads. It’s harmless, and doesn’t affect the blade. You can scrape it bright or leave some of the patina. For this saw, I wasn’t very picky about making the metal bright again.

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The brass nuts cleaned up in a few seconds with a little Brasso. One point – save yourself some fumbling putting them back in by marking which one came out of which hole – they’re not all exactly the same. A wipe down with Camellia oil finished the blade. I may return to the blade later and remove more of the patina… we’ll see.

Sharpness

One stroke with a file was all it took to bring the teeth back to good condition. That’s a good thing… because I HATE sharpening saws, and I’m not very good at it. Rip saws are at least a lot easier than crosscut, but it’s finicky work and I pretty much wrecked a crosscut saw and had to have it professionally ground and resharpened.

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At first, this one didn’t really want to track well in the cut. I took an Arkansas stone to both sides of the teeth to take the set down a little, and it cuts fast and accurately.

Since I had a plastic tub on hand, total project cost:

  • Saw: $7.95
  • Danish Oil: On hand
  • Steel for anode: On hand (rebar works just fine for this)
  • Camellia Oil: On hand
  • Battery charger: On hand
  • Washing soda: $4.25

Total: $12.20. And a beautiful day. And a new (not-new) panel saw in the till. Can’t beat that.

Ross Henton

June 2019

 

A Riveting Story

Because sometimes, even slow-setting epoxy isn’t good enough. 


I originally tried epoxy only – but both handles fell apart in a couple of months.  The solution (hopefully): epoxy one side in place, drill through, epoxy the other side on, drill back through the first hole.  Cut a 3/16″ brass rod to length, add more epoxy to the hole, tap through. Let it set, file to length, and mushroom the pins with a hammer. Refinish. If that doesn’t work… well, I guess I’ll switch to commercial rivets (not my first choice). Time will tell. 

Only real problem so far is that the laminated handle is clearly not centered, and the rivets highlight that.  Lessons for next time.

I really need more days off.  Today brought to you by Diana Krall’s “All For You” and “Turn Up the Quiet”. 

More tomorrow. 

Ross Henton

May 2017

The Blog’s Namesake’s Little Brother

One of the first (and still best) hand tools I made was my bowsaw… courtesy of the excellent class at the Dallas Woodcraft store. Howard Hale’s bowsaw class was great, but it’s sadly been discontinued due to unavailability of the blades. But the design was great, and has some distinct advantages over some traditional designs. The blade is fairly big – about 1 1/4″ wide – and works for everything from breaking down stock to cutting dovetails.

But sometimes, I’ve longed for something a little finer – more like a coping saw. Let’s face it; commercial coping saws either A) suck or B) are waaaay too expensive titanium-framed creatures. Gramercy Tools makes an excellent small bowsaw ($150), and sells the hardware separately… just handle pins and blades. The blades are a little unusual; they’re 12″ coping saw blades.

But the construction plans are kind of a pain. It calls for a loose-tenon mount of the stretcher to the frame, and it’s fiddly and often unstable. There’s a tradeoff between stability and flexibility. I found the mount used in my larger bowsaw both easier and more stable, and still allows the right amount of tension. This is the original, and was the namesake of this blog:

wood-13-of-17

Its little brother is for tight curves, but is essentially the same design: U-shaped joints for the stretcher, but with the narrow blade and excellent mounting hardware from Gramercy tools.

wood-11-of-17This is a five-piece project: two side frames (walnut), the stretcher and handles (walnut and ash), and the tensioning pin (laminated ash and padauk). I traced the original frames and printed an 80% size copy to build from. It was a couple of hours work making the parts on a bandsaw and spindle sander.

wood-10-of-17The handles are octagonal, and the pins from Gramercy are set in with epoxy. I don’t really care for the traditional round handles. These just fit my hand better. (And I steadfastly refuse to own a lathe; all I’d do is make toothpicks all day.) One octagon cut on the table saw, cut into long and short handles, then evened up with a plane on the joinery bench I described in the last post.

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The pins turn freely in the frame. The stretcher took a slight adjustment in the depth of the joint to allow the right amount of tension to be applied.

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The tensioner is wound with some nylon cord. This design will take a lot of tension – you’ll have no problem at all keeping the blade at whatever tension you’d like, and don’t have to worry about stressing the frame. As usual, the parts were finished in a few minutes on the Beall Wood Buff. I should point out that every hand tool I’ve made has been finished the same way, and I’ve never had to retouch one of them – planes, handles, saws, anything.

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The result… smaller, lighter – weighs almost nothing – and turns on a dime.

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And it works as advertised: the 16 tpi blade turns a 1/4″ circle easily, and will likely go much smaller without complaining.

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This is a real keeper. Six hours to make, $25.95 for the pins and three blades, and a trip to the scrap bin for the wood. This one goes front and center in the tool cabinet. And I think my other coping saws go in the next garage sale. There is absolutely no comparison.

Today’s project was brought to you by The Paul Tillotson Trio, Erik Satie, and Bob Culbertson on Chapman Stick.

More to come. Stay tuned.

Ross Henton

September 2016

Benches Rising

One thing about vintage tools… they age more gracefully than I do. I was out of the shop (and derelict in my blogging) for quite a while, but I’m glad to say that I’m back on track. One of the minor projects that’s been lying dormant for a while is a riser/vise for the top of the workbench.  I had originally thought about a Moxon vise, but I had a couple of press screws in the pile and decided to use those instead.

wood-1-of-17

Construction is extremely simple, and a lot of the design was adapted from the bench-on-bench plans at http://www.closegrain.com – a fantastic blog.

The top is just sections of fir 2×4, left over from the original workbench build. The screws are veneer press screws (from Woodcraft, I think).  wood-2-of-17

The threaded supports for the screws are buried in the laminations of the top, and the front face vise is some scrap mesquite (if there is such a thing). The riser is about 28″ wide, and will just fit a 24″ board between the screws.

wood-3-of-17Two washers keep the handles from marring the face of the vise, two rubber washers (visible below, just barely) keep the front face in place when it retracts, and I sank two metal collars just larger than the threads into the mounted mesquite block.

wood-4-of-17The stands are just I-beams made out of scrap plywood. The version on closegrain.com uses dado joinery; this is just simple pocket-hole joinery. Two threaded inserts under the top and a couple of threaded knobs let the stands be removed, so the whole thing breaks down for storage. The top has holes for holdfasts for bench dogs. It’s important to make the stands high enough to allow your longest holdfasts to clear the workbench below.

wood-5-of-17If working with longer boards, the riser can be clamped in place with the workpiece registered against the front of the bench. That makes for an extremely stable arrangement.

All told? I think the press screws were about $10 each. Bushings, scrap wood, rubber washers… that was it. The build took an afternoon and an evening (including letting the glue dry).

First impressions are absolutely great. I cut some dovetails as soon as it was finished, and it was much more comfortable – and my accuracy improved by having the workpiece up closer to me instead of down at the right height for planing.

Brought to you by Oscar Peterson’s Night Train, and Pat Metheny’s A Map of the World.
Stay tuned.

Ross Henton

September 2016

 

When Humidity is Good

I may catch hell from some people about this post. It’s predictable.

Hum

After the jewelry cabinet, I really wanted to do a couple of smaller projects. I’ve had some lumber I picked up at an estate sale that I’ve hung onto for special occasions – one piece was the figured maple for the jewelry cabinet. Another piece was dark… I though maybe it was Texas Ebony, but I was way off (as you’ll see).  I decided to build a humidor.

image (1)

Yes, I smoke the occasional good cigar. (NOT cheezmo cheap stinkers.) Yes, I know I probably shouldn’t, but something else is far more likely to kill me before that does (like inhaling wood dust… more on that to follow).

The wood was very dark, dense, and close-grained. It had a slight lateral twist that had to be removed, but was too big for my little jointer by about two inches. So I set up a sled for the planer, shimmed under the warp, and ran it through several times until the first side was flat. Then flipped the board, and planed the other side to parallel.

Imagine my surprise when this was how it came out of the planer.

image (2)After scratching my head a while, I decided it might be cocobolo… also a wrong guess. So I drove a piece over to the Schmott Guys at Woodcraft, and asked. It turned out to be Bocote – something I was completely unfamiliar with. It’s a central/south American hardwood. Very dense and heavy (Janka hardness 2,010 lbf). Its hardness is similar to rock maple, but that’s where the similarities end. It’s very, very dense and heavy. But it was an absolute joy to work with.

I had decided to not make this a strictly-hand-tool project, because I wanted to get it accomplished in the short term, and I was unsure about handling this wood without some machine assistance. This was the most amazing wood I’ve ever worked with – it machined flawlessly, almost like working plastic. Like Bubinga, but smoother. After planing or sawing, it only required a light touchup with 220 grit sandpaper to bring out a flawless surface.

The box is very simple: rabbeted joinery, with an inset plywood bottom. I resawed the top into a pair of bookmatched panels.

Once completed, a pass across the table saw cut the grooves in the edges for the inlay. The inlay strips are Gaboon Ebony (which is outrageously expensive, but I was having fun).

image (3)

When the inlays were in place, I hand-planed it all flat, and rounded the edges with a block plane. A pass through the band saw cut the lid free.  Hinge installations were pretty simple – I decided not to use traditional corner hinges, because strength wouldn’t be a major issue. These brass hinges are simple insets, and stop at 110°.

 

image (6)The handle is a small cutoff of ebony, glued in place. The lining of the humidor is Spanish Cedar. This is a critical issue: Spanish Cedar has a cellular structure that retains moisture and helps prevent mold and rot, without being so aromatic as to change the taste of the cigars. The lining should be replace every few years, so the only place where it’s glued in is a couple of tack-spots on the lid and the bottom. The other pieces are just cut tightly to fit, and when the box is seasoned, the cedar swells enough to hold them tightly in place. The upper tray is a simple construction of Spanish Cedar as well.

Today’s Lesson: When you cut or sand Spanish Cedar, wear a damn respirator. Cedar is a tremendous allergen, and I sneezed for three days. Lesson noted.

I decided that this project would be a good time to experiment with something I’ve been wanting to try: I gathered up my courage and attempted French Polish.

Instructions for this are everywhere on the internet. Most of them are very similar, but I had a clear set of instructions from a class at Woodcraft (thanks, Howard) that I followed for this first attempt. Like hand-cut dovetails, I think there’s a lot more made of the process than it really merits. It’s labor-intensive, but not that difficult. Follow the directions for the shellac cut, the fiber content of the pad, and be patient and prepared to do a lot of rubbing. Having said that, I wouldn’t really want to do an irregular surface or inside corners. I can’t even figure out how that would work.image (5)

But this was the perfect project to try it out. It took about three days off and on to finish the polish, but I’m glad I tried it. And now I’m prepared to do it on something more challenging next time.

The humidity for cigar storage should be about 65-70%. I added a small Xikar digital hygrometer and humidifier inside the top lid. To season a humidor, rub down the inside with a pad dampened with distilled water 3-4 times over the first day, then close the box and let the humidity stabilize over the next 48 hours. mine is holding at about 69% at the moment.

My thanks to Scott at Woodcraft for one great piece of advice: Add one seal coat of shellac to the inside of the box before the cedar lining. That keeps the box itself from absorbing the water while it’s stabilizing, and it will go much faster. It also helps keep moisture of the joinery.

This was a great small project, and not at all difficult. I may try another one with more complex inlay and simpler wood grain next time.

More to follow. Stay tuned.

Ross Henton

February 2014