Thursday 26 December 2013

Keep Your Two Front Teeth and Give Me...

It is Christmas…well…actually, it is Boxing Day, but close enough. Let me wish all of you the very, very best for the holiday season and may the coming year bring with it health and happiness for you and your families.

While I have spent a great deal of time over the past few days thinking about Christmas’ past, I have also spent some time thinking about what would be my ultimate Christmas present. While I came up with a number of them, I thought I would share a couple of them with you.

Here are three requests from my 2014 Christmas gift list for Santa:
  • Santa, please make some sense out of the cost of raw materials.
    • There was a time when I would build something just because the store-bought variety of what I wanted was just too damned expensive. Today, it is often cheaper to buy the finished product than it is the raw materials to build it. Why is it that the local box-store can sell a complete knockdown shelving unit for $39.95, while that same store sells the sheet of plywood I would need to build it myself for $47.00? WTF?
  • Santa, please equalize attempts to bring down selling prices.
    • I remember when a power tool was expensive. Today, you can buy a table saw for as little as $110.00, a power drill for slightly more than 20-bucks and a skill saw for $60.00. It used to be that power hand tools cost more than a week’s wages, yet today, we can buy them for less than 10% of our net paycheque. Back in 1968, I was making $2.24 an hour as an apprentice body man, which was a good salary back then. I worked part-time in my parents’ corner store and remember that we sold a quart of milk for 39¢, or roughly 17.5% of my hourly wage. Today, a quart of milk cost $3.29 (actually it is a liter, so it is slightly smaller) and the average hourly wage in Ontario is $15.00, so a quart of milk costs roughly 22% of the average persons hourly wage. It seems that the only corporations that focus on the volume/profit ratio are the ones producing discretionary items. WTF?
  • Santa, please get rid of box-stores.
    • Years ago, when I was living in London, Ontario, Canada, my old man would have a building project and our first stop was always at Copps Lumber. Copps was the box-store of yesteryear. They sold everything from tools to trim, all under one roof. We would walk up to the sales counter and go through the list with someone who was a trained carpenter by trade. He would check our calculations, suggest product options, and in the end, produce two copies of the bill; one for us and the other for the yardman. The old man would then back his station-wagon up to the loading dock, hand the next yardman who became available his copy of the bill, and within a short period of time, oversee the loading of the materials into the car. Today, we have the box-stores, places where you can wander around for hours just trying to find what you want, load it onto the gurneys yourself, haul it to the checkout line, wait to be checked out and then load it all yourself into your car that is usually parked as far away from the door as possible. This is progress? There are a few old lumberyards still around, the one I frequent in Toronto being Central Fairbanks Lumber. Ironically, they are located directly across the road from a Home Depot location. While their salesperson/customer ratio is slightly lower than what I remember of Copps, it can’t be compared to the ratio that exists across the road at Home Depot, which, I think, really doesn’t have one. The main difference, though, is in the order processing. I have spent a half-day putting an order together at Home Depot, which I later discovered could be done in less than an hour at Fairbanks. Given that Fairbanks sells that box-store $47.00 sheet of plywood I previously mentioned for $48.50, there is a cost for better service, but with large orders, there is a savings even when the higher material costs are added in. If you think about it, box-stores make you spend a great deal of time to do all their work and pay you less than minimum wage for doing it. WTF?

So there you go – some of what I want for Christmas 2014.



Wednesday 18 December 2013

When I started this remake of my tool cabinet I decided to keep it simple, letting the tools speak for themselves, so-to-speak. I thought the best way to do this was to keep the extras limited to simple curves, but theory and practise don't always jive.

The mount I'm working on is for the Stanley No. 50, a little bodied plane that has a great deal of projections that make it end up being pretty cumbersome. When you add in all its bits and bobs, you come up with a mount that is pretty massive. The end result reminded me of those old continental kits the more-is-better crowd used to bolt to the ass-end of their cars back in the 50's. Somehow I had to get some balance in it.

To do this, I decided to tie in a couple of other plane mounts, thinking that adding more wood below it would trick the eye into seeing its height, rather than its depth. It actually worked, but it added another problem in the process. The additional height resulted in a fairly large expanse of wood, nice wood mind you, but still a lot of wood. It needed something to break up the expanse, but retain the height it needed. I needed to add a little interest to the wood.

To accomplish this, I decided to add curves - lots of them...

I have to admit, this is the first time I have tried my hand at traditional carving. Given this was my first time out of the barn, I think I did all right with it.

I still have a bunch of work to do on this mount, so I'll leave the rest of it until later.



Wednesday 4 December 2013

Update On My Portable Vise Design...

A few weeks ago I posted an article about a portable vise I had designed. Before it was posted I had already placed an order with a local wood supplier for enough Beech to build it, but hit a snag a few days afterwards. The yard had problems coming up with Beech in the thickness I wanted, which was 1½". I called around to a few other local suppliers and heard the same story; nothing thicker than 1". I found that I could get the stock I needed from a supplier in the States, but was shocked at the cost to ship it up to me. When I stated such, the supplier said something that made me rethink my choice of Beech for this project, which was; "Beech isn't exactly the lightest species of wood." Given this is supposed to be a "portable" vise, naturally this comment caught my attention. I ain't gettin' any younger here, so not wanting to have to slug around something that weighed a ton, I thought I should do some more research.

Almost everything about workbenches that I came across stated that Beech was the material of choice, mainly due to its "density". Why everything to do with woodworking has to be so bloody technical, I'll never know, but I decided to see if there were other species of wood that came close to Beech's "density", but weighed less. I had seen Density Values listed on many different wood suppliers' websites but I really didn't have a clue what it really meant, so I decided the first up on my agenda should be figuring out exactly what the hell "density" meant.

Huge mistake.

I really have to be honest here; I am so far removed from an analytical thought process, I don't even fully understand what that term really means, so trying to decipher pretty much all of the definitions for "Density" that I found was as impossible for me as making cream from sand. Why do those that post definitions on the web think everyone is as like-minded as they are? Hell, if I could think like them I wouldn't be reading their damned definitions in the first place, but instead, I would be posting my own, which, I must admit, is exactly what I am going to try to do here, but one I came up with that, hopefully, rewrites the gobbledygook in laymen's terms.

den·si·ty (dĕn'sĭ-tē)

  1. Basically, the amount of wood in a piece of wood.
  2. The more "fibers" (read that as "wood") a wood has per square-whatever, the stronger it is.
  3. Density of wood is defined by a decimal value.
  4. The more dense the wood, the higher the decimal value.
  5. The higher the density value, the stronger the wood is, which means the less effect wailing on it has.
  6. There are as many different ways to calculate a wood's density as there are species of the damned stuff, which causes me to believe that anyone in their right mind should stay the hell away from the subject whenever possible. (which, in turn, explains why I didn't)
  7. The standard way to measure the density of wood, or at least the way I gleaned it to be from reading about 100 different articles on the subject, is by taking the weight of a specific volume of wood which has been properly dried and dividing it by the weight of the same measurement of the same species of wood which hasn't, or is still "green".
  8. Once you understand the principles of calculating Density Values, you realize that to calculate it, you first have to find the weight of the particular species of wood you want to know about in both its green and dry configurations, and if you can do that, you can also find a Density Value list somewhere, so for God's sake, use it, and forget about going through all this other shit!

So putting all rational thought aside, I took my new-found knowledge for a test drive and learned...

  • A cubic foot of dried Beech has a weight of 45-pounds and by dividing that value by the weight of a cubic foot of green Beech, which is 54-pounds, the density factor of dried Beech is 0.8333, or at least that is the value I am going to apply to it, despite any critics.
  • Comparing that value with one for Poplar, for which a cubic foot of dried has a weight of 28-pounds and a cubic foot of green is stated to be 39-pounds, means that Poplar has a density value of 0.737, much less than Beech.
  • With those two values as a base for "good" and "bad" densities for workbench production, I checked out Black Maple, which is one of the harder species and one that weighs in at 40-pounds dried and 54-pounds green; giving it has a density value of 0.740, meaning it isn't much better as a material to build a workbench from than Poplar, which was a bit of a surprise.
  • Checking out the Mahogany that I have had hanging around in my stash for over 10-years now and the material was thinking of using for this portable vise, I found it has a density value of 0.735, which tells me, as a workbench, it would really suck.
  • So I did the same for the Red Oak that I also have in my stash, and found that its density value of 0.688, which means it will suck even more than the mahogany.

One of the main things I learned through this exercise was that I wasn't as smart an ass as I thought I was, so I'm going to have to head back to the drawing board and come up with a better design for this portable bench that is lighter, but just as strong. I also learned that it will have to be made from...go figure...Beech, and more specifically, Beech in 1" thicknesses.