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.

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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

 

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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

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.

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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

 

The Tool Tray Debate, and a Quick Retrofit

Tool tray or not tool tray? That is the question. Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the chisels and squares of outrageous clutter, or to take arms against a sea of disarray, and by opposing, end it?

I hear just as much debate about whether or not to put a tool tray on your bench as I do about the perfect-final-last-word-system for cutting dovetails (pins first, BTW. Don’t ask.).  When I built the Roubo du Garage, I decided against the tool tray – I wanted the flat real estate of the benchtop, didn’t want to change the dimensions to make the bench too wide, and didn’t like the fiddly reversible tool trays in the center of the bench that I’ve seen in some designs.

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BUT… recent work became frustrating. Chisels, squares, marking knives, pencils, mallets. Everything seemed to get in the way at the wrong moment. Taking things out of the cabinet one at a time and trying to put them back to avoid clutter on the bench didn’t work even a little bit.

So, I decided to make a removable tool tray on the left end of the bench. I don’t use a planing stop at the end, I use the inset planing stop (visible in the photos).  For wider pieces, I have a thin stop that clamps into the face vise and works across the bench.  The tray is just scrap plywood, two threaded inserts, and two knurled brass screws.  If I decide I don’t like it, or I need the end of the bench for something, it comes off in a few seconds.

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If I do decide to keep it around, I’ll probably build something more aesthetically pleasing (dovetails, nice joinery, or whatnot). Just because. But for now, I can test the idea and decide which side of the controversy to come down on.

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Today’s music wasn’t… it was an audiobook reading of H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward”.

Go build something.

Ross Henton

January 2014

A Tacky Solution

One thing that I’m absolutely guaranteed that I will not have when I really need one is a tack cloth.
I needed one today for the Mystery Project (more about that saga later). What I found was a dried-out tack cloth about the consistency of a chunk of cardboard, and about as useful. It wouldn’t even bend, much less collect dust.
But, fortunately, it’s salvageable. A half-teaspoon or so of water and turpentine each, knead it through, and let it sit in a container for a few minutes. Viola. good as new.

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This should not be misconstrued as an endorsement for Talenti Sicilian Pistachio Gelato. But, lord, it could be.

Ross Henton
January 2014

A Simple Test

If you’re filing something (like a piece of hardware, as seen here) and it seems to be taking longer than expected, shift farther down the file.

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Take short strokes as close to the handle as you can work. If it cuts better and faster, the file is worn out and should be replaced.
Seems obvious, doesn’t it? So why did I just waste ten minutes, when I should have checked last time I used it? Looks like I’m off to the store.

How (mildly) annoying.

Ross Henton
January 2014

Woodworking and Travel, Part 2

It’s broken my heart the past few months to have so little shop time.  Work-related travel has kept me away from shavings and sawdust – honestly, I recently bought a new set of chisels (Stanley Sweetheart 750s, more about those later), and I really enjoyed the hour I spent sharpening and flattening them. When I really enjoy sharpening, I’ve been out of the shop too long.

But being away has also amazed me sometimes, as I’ve seen (and learned things) from past craftsmen.  For example:

This amazing carved bench – inscription courtesy of Otis Redding – was on display at the Chelsea Flower Show, in London. The work was outstanding; I loved the subtle curves carved into the seat. The closer I looked, the more impressed I was – it was flawless work.

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If you’ve ever wondered whether or not it’s worth that little extra time to put into your joinery, consider this little chaise – it’s Egyptian. 18th dynasty, somewhere between 1550-1186 BC. It’s survived over three thousand years. Honestly, that makes me want to spend a little more practice time with my joinery, and stop patting myself on the back because my mesquite table has survived three whole years so far.

Joinery

One of my favorite pastimes is making my own hand tools.  They’re fun, accurate, made for my hand, and I get far more joy out of using them on other projects than anything I’m likely to ever buy at Woodcraft.  I hope they hold up this well – this ruler (an “angulated rule”) belonged to Tutankhamen’s Minister of Finance.Stop to consider sometime that the work of your hands may outlast a few years in the corner of your house, or a generation in your tool chest. Maybe it’ll face a longer test of time.

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And Now, a Shameless Plug:

I have one other great passion besides woodworking – I’ve been a photographer as long as I could hold a camera. Recently, I’ve gotten more serious about it, and started to make prints available for sale. My work is mostly travel, architectural, and garden photography – the photos on my blog are mostly just iPhone snaps (because it’s handy).

If you’re interested to see some of my other work, it’s viewable at my other website, Art in Transit: http://ross-henton.artistwebsites.com/

Also, on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ArtInTransit

Please stop by if you have a minute! I’d love to see you there.

Next time: Hopefully, back to the Mystery Project.

Ross Henton

May 2013
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