Saturday, 18 February 2012

I See, Said The Blind Man...

As I have mentioned here before, I have a little eyesight problem that keeps me out of the pool halls. I can see pretty well from about 4” to 10”, a little blurred from 10” to about 30”, and progressively on to a melding of colours from there, but often, I can recognize something from its blurred shape.

When I’m playing navigator for my wife, I can’t read the writing on a sign, but I can see the shape of it and by judging their length and calculating whether or not the street’s name would fit in that length of sign, I can tell my wife it is the one we are looking for so she will drive accordingly. I’m silently proud of myself for being right most of the time, although she gives me shit every time I miss one.

When it comes to people, I have learned to pay special attention to their body language as it helps me recognize someone at a distance. I can't see who they are, but I can see who they act like, which allows me to react to them "normally".

When this first came up, back in 1988, my wife and I were sitting at a stoplight and a blind guy was being lead across the road. Of course, this got my wife all choked up, as she is prone to overreactions. For me, I was just upset about how this guy was dressed as he was wearing a plaid pair of pants and a stripped shirt, both in the gaudiest colours you could ever imagine. I looked at my wife and said, “If you ever dress me like that when I can’t see any more I’ll kill you.” She answered me with, “Ya, and how will you know?”

All in all, it is one of those – deal the hand your dealt - sort of things, and as I won’t lay down and play dead, I insist it is absolutely no issue for me at all. I am not trying to pretend I can see normally, I just don't think about it much.  Sometimes, though, not thinking gets me into trouble, like what happened a few months ago. I needed paint to paint my office so one evening I went off by bus and subway to the paint store. By the time I got to the street it was on, it was well into dusk, and by the time I got out with my purchases, it was night. I found myself on the darkest street I could ever imagine, and given I can't see squat in the dark, that was a problem. As I headed back to the subway, I walked into two A-frame signs on the sidewalk and tripped and fell on two unexpected curbs. It scared me so badly, I now make a mental note of where things are on any street I walk on, just in case I find myself on it after dark.

Overall, there is only one minus with the whole thing, that being that I can’t drive, which I truly miss as I have always loved getting behind the wheel. There is, however, one very strong item on the plus side. Since my vision went down the tubes, I have noticed that there is a hell of a lot more beautiful women in the world than there used to be.

For many, sight follows waistline as we get older, both dropping to shocking levels, so with this theme in mind, I’d like to give those of you a quick run-down on how I have started to do cuts, such as making mortises for my never-ending plant shelf unit project.

Here is a quick render of how I made up the crown moulding that I am using as the top rail for the lower cabinet’s face frame…

Because of the weight this thing will carry, the top requires multiple cross-braces, so the rail was made extra deep to allow those braces to be tied into it.

Lighting is a major necessity of life in a shop and it angers me when I view someone else’s workshop that has less than adequate lighting. If yours is like that, skip the next project or tool purchase and buy yourself some damned lights.

I have two lights on my bench; one that is movable and low, and another that has it’s swing arm clamped to the edge of the bench. I use the swing arm for general lighting and when I am working on something small and critical, I bring the little table lamp into play. I bought these both from Lee Valley when they were on sale. Looking this morning I found they do not have the swing arm listed, but this little guy is still available. Because you will constantly whack these things, I would suggest spending too much money on them.

Back when I wrote about creating dovetails, many of you were kind enough to give me advice and by combining what all of you suggested and modifying things slightly to fit my situation, I came up with a fairly solid way to cut some pretty good dovetails and I thank you for it. If any of you have any more suggestions to offer on this process, believe me, I’m all ears and eager to hear what you have to say.

Mike Siemsen commented about the scribe line when that dovetail article was posted. He told me to trust it, letting the chisel grab and hold it, as it will, “lock in there like a screwdriver in a slot”. I have been following his advice ever since.

Following Mike’s advice over the course of time, I have tried a number of different marking knives to try to improve my scribe lines. Frankly, I found them all a waste of time and money. For me, the cheap, basic, blade-replaceable box-cutter knives are the way to go. I have knives in my cutlery drawer that I sharpen often and I have become so accustomed to sharpening knives, my wife won’t use them because they are too sharp. I will do the same with a marking knife, and while they cut well, they don’t cut deep enough for me as their blades are always too thick and wood, unlike a good prime rib, won’t fold away to give the blade room.

I need a good, strong guideline to start. Once I have it, I run a pencil along it so I can see it easier. A pencil seems, for some reason, to follow the deeper cut made with a box-cutter better than it will a shallower cut made by a marking knife. I use a soft graphite black pencil for lighter woods, and a white or light coloured Derwent 
ColourSoft pencil for darker.

Once I have the deep scribe line marked to stand out more, I then use a chisel to chop away a V-groove inside it, keeping the outer walls square to the top surface. This is an expansion of a concept explained by Chris Schwarz when he was on the Woodwright Shop last year. The deeper scribe line makes registering that chisel easier and holds it there better. With a shallow cut, the chisel is sitting on the wood and the blow to it has to immediately be transferred to the wood. With a deeper cut, the chisel sits above the bottom of the cut, so the blow tends to allow the chisel to follow the cut’s wall, minimizing its deflection. This is a very small benefit, but I will take all I can get.

My issue is a bit extreme as I was born with lousy eyes to begin with, and angle-closure glaucoma, retina tears and detachments, scar tissue from operations and injuries incurred when I was young have all served to make things go as they have gone, leaving me with a pretty narrow angle of view. The result of all of this is, when I focus on the closest edge of even a ½” chisel, I can’t register the furthest edge. I bring this point up because while I hate to be the barer of bad news, I have to tell you that as you age, you will find this issue will rear its ugly head with your vision as well, although definitely not in this extreme.

Ready to make the cuts with a couple of the
marking knives I have collected over time.

That is what this V-groove is for; to allow me a better chance at following the line. When I am drawing the saw, I can only check if it is following the line one end of the cut at a time. By adding these grooves, the saw blade is less likely to move off the line as its blade runs against the flat outside wall while the angle tends to make the blade slope towards that wall. Since I watched Chris explain this in that movie, I have improved my cuts 200% as I can now get them started properly, and that is half the battle.

After cutting the outside edges of the mortise, I then make cuts between them, every ¼” or so. Because I have the heavy pencil lines on both sides of the stock, I tend to see when to stop better, finding it best to shoot for stopping just above the lines.

Using a ½” chisel, I then knock out the narrow strips…

With a wider chisel, the one shown below being 1¼”, I then clean up the bottom of the mortise, checking it with a little square every so often to ensure it is staying square with the edges and consistent in depth…

Using this process, I end up with some pretty tight mortises that require very little clean up afterwards…

Where there is a will, there is a way, and while many of those ways redefine the word “patience”, workin’ wood is still a blast and something I never want to give up.



P.S.: The title of this post is from one of my old man's favourite expressions...

"I see", said the blind man.
"Bullshit" said the deaf-mute.
And the man with no legs walked away in disgust.

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