Friday, December 14, 2007

Happiness Is a New Saw

The best case scenario one can hope for when buying a new tool is that it does what its manufacturers claim it does. So often, sadly, this isn't the case. What woodworker hasn't been frustrated by a tool purchase when the tool doesn't perform as advertised?

The flip side of this equation is the feeling of satisfaction and possibility that arises in response to a new tool that does exactly what it's supposed to do without any tweaking or fuss. Happily, this was my experience today as I set up my new Laguna bandsaw, pictured below.

The first thing I noticed about the saw was how small it is. Despite its petite profile, it has a full 12" below the guide for resawing wide stock. That's one of the reasons I chose it. In the picture above you can see how the saw's mobility kit works. Wheels are affixed to an axle on the saw's left-hand side, and a removable wheeled lever fits into a tab on the opposite side. You can see the lever leaning against the wall. This is such smart design.

Everything inside the saw is so tidy and well-machined. This particular model is manufactured in Bulgaria. It comes with a signed certification from the head of the factory, which seems kind of touching and old-world to me. Let's just say it's something I've never encountered when un-crating a machine made in Taiwan. In the upper left-hand corner you can see the tension guide; Laguna doesn't even bother with the standard markings for this-or-that blade width. Everyone knows that as a spring wears, those markings become meaningless, and I like it that the folks who designed this machine responded to that fact by ditching the convention.

The photo above depicts the heart-and-soul of what separates a Laguna from the rest of the pack. Instead of using ball-bearing guides, they've gone with small pieces of ceramic--those would be the white parts next to (and behind) the blade. The rear guide actually touches the back of the blade when not under tension, and the side guides are set but a hair's breadth apart from the blade. This results in amazing control when pushing a workpiece through the blade.

Here's another smart feature of the saw. It's a plywood baffle into which one cuts a kerf during initial setup. It directs almost all of the sawdust down the dust chute on the right. Laguna went so far as to attach a bushing strip to the outside of the baffle so that it would connect with the lower door. The net effect is a relatively dust-free wheel housing. Anyone who has recently purchased a Powermatic bandsaw would likely give their eyeteeth for this.

This last shot is of two pieces of bookmatched oak veneer I sawed before leaving the shop this afternoon. You're actually looking at the sawn surfaces! They're about 3" wide by 7" long. Without even trying too hard, I sawed them to 1/32" in thickness. That was using a 1/4" 6 tpi blade! I can't wait to get my specialty resaw blade ("The Wood Slicer") on the machine tomorrow and have a go at resawing my last big hunk of wenge into veneers.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Brobdingnagian Brackets Complete

I finished the massive fir brackets this morning. See the photos below for the play-by-play.

Once I had my 6" x 15 1/2" x 70" slab glued together, I needed to cut out more manageable blanks. I used one of our big 36" Powermatic bandsaws to cut the slab into three pieces.

Here are the three blanks. The next step was to trace the pattern I'd made (see previous posts) onto the blanks and saw out the shapes. As you can imagine, it took some time to shape the profile with the saw, a block plane, and a couple of different sanders.

This photo shows the three almost-complete brackets after sawing and sanding.

Below you see a finished bracket, complete with its backing board. Each bracket must have weighed 20 pounds or so. I can't imagine how huge the house they're for must be.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


So, your good friend The Wood Mechanic has been nominated for some awards by the good people at RVAnews. The nominations are in the categories "Best Topical Blog" and "Best Kept Secret." Since you and I are such good friends, I know I can count on you to cast a vote for The Wood Mechanic by clicking HERE!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Mother of all Magazine Racks?!

Here are some shots of a magazine rack I recently completed for an addition to a beautiful Craftsman bungalow in Westover Hills. A special thanks to Clay for getting me this very enjoyable piece of work!

The rack is made from quarter-sawn white oak. The finish is antique oil (which goes on easily and is hard as nails) and wax. The lower two rails are slightly bevelled top-and-bottom to form a sliding dovetail where they meet the stiles.

Draftsman's Flat Files In Progress

During the recent slow period at work I've been working on a set of flat file drawers for our drafting department. We have old drawings going back 40 or 50 years that need a home. It's surprisingly tough to find drawer slides that extend a full 36". We finally did locate some (Knape Vogt makes them), but they cost an astounding $85 per pair and weigh a solid 10 pounds apiece. I'm glad I didn't have to pay for six pairs of them! I used mahogany leftover from some long-ago job for the drawer faces and face frame. The drawer components are of white pine with birch ply bottoms.

The sides of the piece get painted to match the room they're going in. I think I'll finish the mahogany parts with shellac and wax.

If my boss goes for it, I'm going to use the insert knobs pictured below for the pulls. These brass knobs are recessed to accept a wooden plug which can then be shaped into a slight dome. The amazing Lee Valley sells these things--see the link to their site in the list to the right.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Enormous Fir Brackets

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, I'm working on a set of three enormous fir brackets.  These will fit under the soffit of some huge home.  They will be 20" tall and 6" thick, projecting off the exterior wall about 21" total.  The pattern I'm using is shown below.  I took the full size drawing from our drafting department and glued it to a piece of 1/4" ply to make my pattern. 

After I'd used the fantastic Fay & Eagan 429 (see previous post), I glued-up five 1 13/64" x 15 1/2" x 70" slabs.  Below, you can see one of the slabs in clamps.  I frequently use the printmaking brayer you see on top of the slab to spread large amounts of glue quickly. Stacking all five slabs yields the required 6".

Once all five slabs were glued together, I stacked them one on top of the other and used a caret to mark one edge.  Harrison taught me to use carets in markups because they convey a great deal of information.  In the photo below, the caret indicates 1) the placement of each slab relative to every other; 2) which surfaces receive glue and which do not; and 3) which side I'm working from on each slab.  Someday I'll do a whole post about carets and their multiple uses.

At this point I was almost ready to start gluing, but I knew I needed a way to register the slabs since I'd soon have roughly 30 square feet of wet glue causing them to slip and slide every which way while under pressure.    My solution was to drill two 9/16" holes in opposite corners of the slabs in the waste material.  I could then drop 1/2" dowels into the holes to keep the glued slabs from going cattywompas. In this photo you can also see the considerations I thought about with regard to grain orientation at the ends of the boards.

A coworker helped me spread the glue across the slabs' interior surfaces, I dropped the dowels into their registration holes, and then the whole assembly went into this massive press.  I'm not sure what it was originally designed for or why we have it, but it's handy for face gluing large, heavy pieces like this one.  The red gun at the top is a pneumatic driver that screws the clamps down.  There are four or five clamps per beam, all of which can be located side-to-side.

This last picture shows the assembly under pressure in the press.  The 4-by material is simply blocking we use to keep from having to drive the clamps all the way down.  The air driver makes a hellish racket.  When I go in on Monday, I'll take my huge timber out of clamps and start bandsawing the brackets.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Elegy to an Old Machine

I started a set of three massive exterior fir brackets this past week. They are 20" tall, 20" long, and 6" wide. Because fir timbers of that size aren't available to me, I assembled a bunch of dressed fir 2-by material and glued it together to make my stock. More about that process in a later post. For now, here's the basic shape of the brackets:

To create perfect glue joints, I used one of my absolute favorite old machines, a Fay and Eagan No. 429 Automatic Glue Jointer and Edge Molder, which we all just call "the tongue and groove machine." Check out the video below to see it in action.

Lastly, here are a couple of old pictures of this amazing machine. You know, this one is so ancient that it doesn't even have ball bearings--just very, very old (but still entirely functional) Babbit bearings.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

She Finally Came!

My new (but also very old) jointer arrived today. It's an American Woodworking Machinery 12" from somewhere between 1904 and 1910. It was meticulously maintained by an old frenchman who ran the woodworking shop at a large textile mill in New Hampshire. I bought it from Jeff Behan, wood carver extraordinaire and savior of too many tons of cast iron to count. I got an amazing deal on this machine and expect I'll get many decades of use from it. Watch the video below to see how we moved this 1,200 pound monster into the shop.

Now all I need is a free machinist or a rotary phase converter! By the way, yes, the title of this post was a tawdry attempt at boosting traffic to my blog! (Did it work?)