A Review: The Tools (And Products) of 2020

We’re rapidly approaching the end of 2020 or, as some of us call it, “the year from hell”, so this is a good time to look back at some of the tools and products I’ve bought and used over the past year and see just how well they actually worked. I’ll use a scale of 1 – 10. A 1 means it is utterly miserable and a complete waste of money. A 10 means the tool is outstanding and exceeded my expectations in every way. Anything above a 5 means I feel it’s worth the money. All of the comments are based on my actual observations while using the tool in actual working conditions over a period of weeks or longer.

Rikon 10-3061 Bandsaw: Score – 8

The Rikon saw was one of the more expensive purchases I made this year, and one of the best. I’d wanted a bandsaw for many years but always managed to talk myself out of buying one until this year. Now that I have it, I don’t know how I got along without it. It’s become the 2nd most frequently used power saw in the shop, behind only my table saw.

The saw is nice all the way around. It’s well made, the fit and finish is good, it’s easy to adjust the blade guide bearings, the fence is decent. It has done everything I’ve wanted it to do, and has done it pretty darn well. I really like this saw.

There are a three issues that keep it from getting a 10, and all of them are relatively minor.

The dust collection system is pretty much worthless. Oh, it sucks dust out of the lower wheel housing, but that’s all it does. The table will quickly become thickly covered with dust, the lower guide bearings will become caked with the stuff. I need to get under there with a brush to clean the guides off every time I use it. Minor, but annoying.

I also think the saw is underpowered. The motor is certainly adequate for most things, but if you try to do anything challenging like trying to cut a four inch thick piece of ash it will quickly start to bog down and even stall. Of course the blade could be the issue there. I’m still using the blade it came with and it is not very good. I probably should have bought a good blade for it right off the bat. They aren’t that expensive.

Finally there’s the table. There’s nothing wrong with the table itself. The problem is the tilt system underneath it. It’s fiddly, flimsy and frankly not very well made or designed. I keep it locked at 90 degrees so it hasn’t been an issue for me, but for someone who needs to change the angle this could be a problem.

Delta 46-460 Midi-Lathe: Score – 4

The other really expensive tool I bought this year is the Delta 460 lathe. At first I was thrilled with the thing. But that was because my previous lathe was an absolute piece of junk that was the most badly made piece of equipment I’d ever seen. But the longer I’ve used the Delta, the more disappointed I’ve become. I really expected better from Delta, especially on a piece of equipment that costs $700. Oh, it works, but…

The tool rest was a piece of junk. Seriously. I literally threw it away. It was a rough cast piece of iron that hadn’t even been properly machined or finished. It was impossible to slid a gouge along it without it catching. The metal it was made from was so weak that the main support rod where it fits into the tool rest banjo actually bent the first time I hit a catch when I was turning. When you buy a $700 lathe you shouldn’t have to throw away the tool rest it comes with and spend even more money on a decent aftermarket one, but that’s exactly what I had to do.

The tailstock handwheel is seriously, almost laughingly sloppy. There is an utterly ridiculous amount of play in the threads in that thing.

The bed is nicely machined and flat, but only on the top side. On the underside it varies in thickness so badly that if I adjust the tool rest banjo to lock down so it’s tight on the one end of the bed, it will be so loose on the other end of the bed it won’t lock in place. I have to reach under and loosen or tighten the adjustment nut underneath the lock down whenever I move it from one end to the other. Same with the tailstock lockdown.

The forward/reverse motor switch is wired backwards. This apparently is a long standing issue with this lathe.

It has a variable speed control, which is very nice, of course. Or would be if the control would stay at the speed I set it at. It doesn’t. Any slight vibration in the lathe causes the speed control dial to move by itself. This isn’t just inconvenient it could be downright dangerous.

I really expected better from Delta.

Rikon 8″ Low Speed Grinder: Score – 9

Sharpening tools is something I do so often that I have an entire workbench set up just for that purpose. Just to the right of the grinder is my Work Sharp sharpening system for sharpening chisels and plane blades.

Let’s see, what can I say about this thing…

Well, it’s a grinder. It works. Any grinder like this is little more than an electric motor with some grinding wheels attached. This one just works. It’s quiet, almost no vibration. No problems at all with it. (Why a low speed grinder instead of a standard one? Because a standard speed grinder spins the wheels so fast it will quickly heat up the metal you’re grinding to the point where it will turn blue and wreck the tool you’re trying to sharpen.) This one does exactly what it’s supposed to do. The price is relatively reasonable. Even the stock grinding wheels it comes with are pretty nice.

Wolverine Grinding Jig with Vari-Grind: Score – 8

You can probably tell this thing gets used a lot.

While I’m on the subject of sharpening I need to mention the Wolverine grinding jig and vari-grind attachment. Doing just about any kind of wood working means you need sharp tools. And that means you’re going to have to have the equipment and skills necessary to sharpen those tools. In the case of some tools like bowl gouges, it isn’t a matter of just slapping a tool onto a sharpening stone or grinder. Bowl gouges and a lot of other tools don’t have straight cutting surfaces, they’re curved, and often have compound curves. So unless you’re very, very good at sharpening things like that free hand (I most definitely am not) you need some kind of help. In my case that’s the Wolverine grinding jig. It isn’t super expensive, it goes for around $90, and for sharpening some tools like bowl gouges you’ll also need the Veri-Grind attachment which goes for about $45, so the whole thing sells for about $135 or so.

And once I got it properly installed and set up, it works beautifully for sharpening my lathe tools. There’s no way I could get along without it, or at least without something similar. Once I got it set properly and figured out how to use it, it takes me probably less than a minute to sharpen a bowl gouge or scraper or skew chisel.

A word of warning, though. It is a bit fiddly to get set up properly. It requires everything, including your grinder, to be securely bolted together on a wood platform, and may require some disassembly of your grinder in some cases. But once it is set up and you learn how to adjust everything, it works really well.

Nova 4 Jaw Chuck: Score – 9

Now I suppose you could get along without a chuck to mount stuff to a lathe, but I don’t know how I’d get along without one. I use this thing on almost every single lathe project I’ve worked on since I got it. I have to admit that this is the only one I’ve ever owned, so I don’t really have anything to compare it to. But in the months I’ve been using it I’ve had absolutely zero problems with it. Once a piece of wood is locked down in it, it has never, ever come loose. It just plain works as advertised. I’m very pleased with it.

ShopFox Air Filtration System: Score – 8

I have absolutely no complaints about this thing either. It’s relatively quite, moves a lot of air through the filters, and does a decent job. It has a timer so I can let it run for 1 – 3 hours after I leave the shop to keep cleaning the air and it’ll turn itself off. I’ve noticed a considerable reduction in the amount of dust I’m seeing in rooms adjacent to the shop since I started using it. It works.

Starbond CA Adhesives: Score – 5

Now I don’t use a lot of CA type adhesives (so-called “superglue”). I don’t like them very much to begin with. The fumes they give off are highly toxic and extremely irritating to the eyes, and they really aren’t very good glues despite all of the hype. It’s also been my experience that CA type glues just don’t work very well on wood. Starbond is a decent CA glue. Period. You’ll find people on YouTube and elsewhere on the internet who rave about this stuff. Don’t believe them. This isn’t some kind of miraculous product. It’s a decent CA adhesive. But there’s nothing special about it. It works no better or worse than any other CA adhesive I’ve tried over the years.

Naked Fusion Deep Pour Resin: Score – 9

I like this stuff a lot. I’ve gone through about 2 gallons of Naked Fusion in six or seven different projects and it’s worked well every single time. It releases bubbles very well, is easy to mix, takes coloring agents nicely, and I’ve had no problems with it at all. It has no VOCs, has almost no odor, and works very well for making large castings. Using it does require some patience though because it can take up to 72 hours for a casting to completely cure depending on the depth of the pour and ambient temperatures.

“OB Shine Juice”: Score – 3

I debated with myself as to whether or not to include this because it isn’t a commercial product. You have to make it yourself. But it shows up a lot, especially on YouTube, where it is proclaimed to be the best thing ever when it comes to wood finishes for lathe projects. It isn’t. Not even close.

As I said you have to make this muck yourself. It’s equal parts of alcohol, shellac and boiled linseed oil. Usually they recommend Zinsser brand shellac. But not because it’s all that good. That’s because Zinsser seems to be the only company that makes pre-mixed shellac. You’re better off making your own. Home made shellac is so much better than the canned stuff, and so easy to make, I don’t know why anyone would bother buying it off the shelf. More about Zinsser in a moment.

Anyway, OB Shine Juice is supposed to be easy and fast to apply, and give you a very nice, shiny finish on a lathe project. I’ve tried different variations of this stuff, following the instructions to the letter both in making it and applying it. Yes, it will, eventually, give you a nice shine after you’ve practiced and gotten the formula right. (Hint – don’t use Zinsser’s canned shellac, make your own. A 2 pound cut seems to work best, maybe a 3 lb cut.) But it isn’t as easy as they claim, the shine dulls with time, probably as the linseed oil oxidizes, and there are better, faster and easier ways of doing it. Just about any of the commercial finishing products on the market will do a better job than this stuff. Even just slapping on a seal coat of thin shellac and then topping it off with nothing but carnauba wax is faster and will give you a better looking finish that is more durable and will give better protection to the wood.

And I should add that linseed oil is a serious fire hazard. This stuff can, and will, spontaneously combust.

Zinsser Shellac: Score – 1

Let’s talk about this stuff while I’m on the subject of wood finishes. You know I make my own shellac for sanding sealers and finishes. It’s simple, just dissolve shellac flakes in alcohol. That’s it. So I had never tried Zinsser Shellac until I started to experiment with OB shine juice. I used it because most of the recipes for the muck specifically call for Zinsser brand shellac. I eventually bought three different cans of this stuff at three different stores, all of them turning out to be bad, before I figured out what was going on and learned how to read the cryptic date codes.

Shellac has a limited shelf life. There is some disagreement about what its shelf life is, but I’d guess it is perhaps six months, maybe a year under ideal conditions. The problem is that acids in the shellac react chemically with the alcohol it is dissolved in, and the older it gets, the slower it is to dry and the less water resistant and easier to damage the final finish becomes. That’s one of the reasons I and a lot of other people who fiddle with wood recommend you make your own in small batches.

Now, Zinsser – I had to do some research. The company decided several things many years ago. First, it decided it was no longer going to put a shelf life on its cans. It used to have a recommended shelf life of 3 years. It also decided it was no longer going to put actual date stamps on its cans so now you can’t easily tell how old the stuff actually is. It also stopped putting the “cut” information on the cans. The “cut” tells you how much shellac is mixed with how much alcohol. The company used to print that what was in the can was a 3 pound cut, along with instructions on how to properly dilute it to make lighter cuts for other purposes. So what, exactly, is the cut of this stuff? I have no idea because they decided I didn’t need to know.

Now there is a code printed on the can, and if you can decipher it (Popular Woodworking’s website has an article about this here) you can figure out when it was made. Turns out that every single can I bought when I was experimenting turned out to be more than 5 years old. In one case the code indicated it had been made in 2012.

So for removing easy to read dates from its cans, removing shelf life recommendations on a perishable product, and removing information about how concentrated its product actually is, i.e. the cut info, Zinsser Shellac gets rated a 1 out of 10.

Make your own shellac. It is incredibly easy and relatively inexpensive.

And – well, I have a short attention span. I’m getting bored, so I’m going to wrap this up for now.

I hope you find this stuff useful. Questions and comments are always welcome.

Moon Rant

Every once in a while something irritates me so badly I have to vent. So here goes. A week or so ago VP Pence and NASA announced the names of astronauts who will be part of the team which will land on the moon in 2024.

Oh, dear…

NASA and the White House are still claiming they’re going to return people to the moon in 2024, even though everyone, including most of the people at NASA, know that the chances of that actually happening in 2024 are pretty close to zero.

The breathtakingly, mind numbingly expensive SLS launch system (the last cost estimate I heard was that an SLS launch will cost $2 billion. Billion. Per launch.)that’s supposed to be used for this hasn’t even been fully tested yet. They might, might have a test launch of the SLS “sometime” in 2021, perhaps November. I should point out that it is already more than 3 years behind schedule. It was supposed to fly in 2017. And now it looks like it quite possibly won’t fly until well into 2022. And perhaps not even then.

The Orion space craft that’s supposed to carry people… It’s been under development for 15 years now. Fifteen years. And it has flown into space once and preliminary testing is still turning up significant problems, especially with the software and electronic systems. The latest on that is that an electronic component failed in the PDU, and it could take up to a full year just to replace that single component.

And then there is Gateway. This is a bare bones orbital platform in orbit around the Moon. Eventually astronauts will not go directly to the moon, but instead dock at Gateway, which is going to be a sort of mini space station. From Gateway they will use a lunar lander to make the actual descent to the surface of the moon. The first flight to the moon apparently won’t require Gateway, which is good because Gateway, like large parts of this entire system, doesn’t actually exist.

The first flight or two will be stand alone missions, not requiring Gateway. They’ll descend in a lunar lander they’ll bring with them…

Oh, wait a minute, and they don’t actually have a lunar lander, either, do they?. Three different companies are working to develop three entirely different landers. And none of them actually have built an actual lander. Well, okay, they have a mock up of one, which is something. I guess.

So here we are just a few days away from 2021. NASA and the White House claim that we’re going to land people on the Moon before the end of 2024. Using a launch system that is already years behind schedule, 60% over budget, and hasn’t even test flown yet, with human beings in a spacecraft that hasn’t been successfully tested yet, using a lunar lander that doesn’t exist yet. And the first test flight isn’t scheduled until late 2021 and, more probably mid 2022. And which will cost $2 billion per launch.

And they’re going to do all of this before the end of 2024.

Now if they pull this off, I will be thrilled. I skipped school several times to watch the original moon landings. I’m a SF fan. I’m an amateur astronomer. I love anything to do with space exploration. But please excuse me for being just a wee bit skeptical here.

Cake Plate, Air Filters, Schrodinger’s Microwave, Farmers Shafted Again

Egads, it’s been a while since I did one of these, isn’t it? This time of year as the weather gets colder it’s tempting to just hunker down in my warm radio room and play with radios and computers and stuff instead of doing something useful. But stuff has been getting done, things have been going on and, well, let’s start at the beginning.

I should point out that I hate the color rendition on iPhone cameras. The real life colors of that platter up there are much richer, much deeper, and considerably darker. I don’t know what’s going on with that camera, but colors look washed out, pale, harsh, even cartoonish sometimes, especially with indoor photos.

I don’t know if I mentioned the plate before, and I’m too lazy to go back through the archives to check, but I got MrsGF’s cake plate done finally. It’s hard to judge size in these photos so to give you an idea of size the top plate is about 11″ across and it stands about 5″ high. It’s made of ambrosia maple, finished with shellac and carnauba wax so it’s a food safe surface. I think it turned out reasonably well.

The base and spindle are made out of packing material. I ordered a bunch of wood from a company called Green Valley Wood Products and the wood didn’t quite fit into the box so they chucked in some rough cut pieces of wood as packing material that turned out to be some rather nice ambrosia maple once I cleaned it up. The stuff didn’t look like it was very good at first but I trimmed it up on the bandsaw and discovered there was enough there to make the base and spindle.

I should probably have mentioned Green Valley before. I’ve bought several hundred bucks worth of wood from these guys over the past few months and it has all been excellent quality and the prices are reasonable. Anyway, here’s a shameless plug – If you’re looking for wood, check out Green Valley Wood Products, Brazil IN. I don’t get free wood or get paid by them or anything like that, I just like the quality of their wood, shipping times are reasonable and the prices are fair.

The new air filtration system seems to be doing it’s job quite well. As you can see from the dirt on the filter up there it’s pulling stuff out of the air. It’s hard for me to tell exactly how well it’s working because I don’t have any way of testing particulate content in the air around here, but it seems there is a lot less dust through the whole house since I started using it.

Even with the new filter system I still use this thing. I figure running both of them can’t hurt.

Is it any better than something like this Rube Goldberg thing over there on the left? Heck, I don’t know. Taping a furnace filter to a box fan does help pull stuff out of the air, but how effective it really is… Well, judging from the amount of dust I saw in the rest of the basement when I was doing things like this, it doesn’t work all that well. The volume of air being moved through this thing isn’t anywhere near as great as what the Shopfox thing pulls through its system. At a rough guess I’d say the Shopfox moves 5 times as much air through its filters as the box fan does. That’s just a rough guess, of course, based on the air movement I feel. I don’t have any way to actually measure CFM.

Let’s see, what else? Ah, how could I forget about the Schrodinger’s microwave fiasco? I call it Schrodinger’s microwave because it seems to both exist and not exist, at the same time.

Handy hint: Don’t buy a black microwave. It may look cool in the display room or online, but in real life trying to keep it clean is a major pain in the neck.

So, let’s start at the beginning. Last year we had to buy a new microwave oven. We ended up getting a Maytag, the one in the photo over there on the right. And it’s a very nice microwave. A bit pricey, but it’s well made and works very well indeed. We really like the thing. The problem is that this model doesn’t seem to actually exist.

We needed to replace the filters in this thing. MrsGF went out on the internet and started scrounging around looking for replacement filters. And couldn’t find any. In fact, she couldn’t even find this oven.

You’re kidding, said I. You must have typed the model number in wrong or overlooked something. Ah, said she, if you’re so smart, you go try to find it. Okay, said I, I will.

She was right. None of the parts vendors on Amazon list this model. None of the parts vendors outside of Amazon list this model. I went directly to Maytag. Maytag itself didn’t have this model in its database. Apparently we bought a microwave that doesn’t actually exist???

I took a closer look at the tag with the manufacturing data on it, including the date it was made and…

Well, that was interesting. Apparently this oven was manufactured three months after we bought it. Okay… Well, I ruled out the possibility that somehow this thing slipped through some crack in the spacetime continuum from some alternate universe or that the guy who actually installed it was Dr. Who or that it was some kind of quantum oven that both existed and didn’t exist at the same time. So what was going on? Some kind of counterfeit perhaps? It does happen. There are companies out there that gleefully rip off name brand manufacturers all the time. But that didn’t make sense. This thing is extremely good quality. Everything about it is rock solid, made to perfect tolerances, made of high quality materials, the fit and finish is flawless, it works beautifully. If this thing is a counterfeit they’re making products of better quality than most of the name brand stuff out there. So that didn’t make any sense.

Anyway, eventually I did find a filter, but by searching on the filter dimensions instead of models or brands. The one I found was actually for a Whirlpool. Of course it is entirely possible that this is a Whirlpool, or, rather, made by some OEM in China that makes ovens for two or more different companies and the only difference between them is the brand name. That kind of thing happens all the time in most industries. The name you see on the product isn’t the company that actually made it. Heck, the Ford truck I had many years ago was actually made in Canada by Mazda.

Farmers Getting Screwed Again?

Yeah, it seems so. Here’s the deal – Farmers who sold their milk to the now bankrupt Dean Foods are getting letters from lawyers demanding the farmers repay the money they were paid for milk they shipped to Dean during the “preference period” of the bankruptcy. Supposedly these parasites can go back 90 days and demand the farmers repay the money Dean paid them. Will the farmers then get their milk back or something? Of course not. Is it ethical? Good lord no! Ethically speaking this is flat out extortion. Is this legal? Apparently it is. It’s called a Trustee Avoidance Claim. But in actual fact most, if not all of the farmers who dealt with Dean who are receiving demands like this qualify for an exemption and can avoid having to repay anything. But the trustees, of course, hope the farmers don’t know this and will just cough up the money. As Roger McEowen of Washburn University said,  “These are extortion letters, there’s no other way to put it. They’re seeing what they can get.”

But if you get one of these letters, you’re going to have to get your own lawyer to respond properly, so you’re going to have to foot the bill for that. Still, hiring a lawyer is going to cost a lot less than having to potentially repay tens of thousands of dollars to these parasites.

And on that rant, let’s wrap this up.

Air Filter, Another Finish Experiment, Cleaning

I mentioned that I needed to do something about the dust getting into the rest of the house and ordered an air filtration system made by ShopFox. It arrived on Saturday and I have it set up in the shop now. So far it looks pretty good, but I haven’t done any serious sanding or wood turning yet, so we’ll see just how well it actually works once I get a new project started.

It looks well made, steel outer case, handle on top so you can move it around. Two stage filtration system. A 2″ thick pleated filter with a 2nd filter made of some kind of cloth like material on the inside. It weighs maybe 20 pounds, and while it’s intended to hang from the ceiling you can really just put it anywhere. This one is going to end up on a shelf in the shop because my ceiling is too low to hang it up without cracking my head open on it.
Controls are simple, an on/off switch and one to control motor speed. The timer function can only be used from the included remote control. The remote is a nice touch, but it only works when pointed directly at the back of the unit so the remote’s usefulness is seriously limited. Note the silly safety stickers on the back of this thing. Obviously they just slapped every sticker they had from their other machines, whether they were appropriate or not.

If you go shopping for one of these don’t let the hype in the advertising fool you. All these things are is a box with a fan and motor, with one or more filters in it. How well these things work is entirely dependent on the filters used and how much air the fans pull through the filters. And that’s it. Everything else is just fluff and nonsense you don’t need.

This one looks fairly robust. The outer case is sheet steel, looks well made, nice fit and finish to it. It has a 3 speed fan that looks like it should be more than capable of handling the size room it will be in. The only other control is a timer so you can set it to turn itself off after 1, 2 or 3 hours. It came fully assembled, with the filters already installed. I just took it out of the packing material, took it out of the plastic bag and turned it on. And supposedly the filters are cleanable/washable and can be reused. So we’ll see about that.

Anyway, I’ll keep you updated about how well it works and if it does a better job than the makeshift furnace filter taped to a box fan trick. Considering how much dust I generate when I’m sanding I may end up using both the Shopfox filter and the box fan trick.

A New Finish Experiment

I’m always looking for ways to finish wood that improves its appearance and that is easy to use. I’m also addicted to Youtube (sigh… the hours I’ve wasted there…) and learned about something called “OB Shine Juice”, some kind of miraculous, easy to use, virtually instant finish you just slap on and buff out and…

But like most of these “tricks”, it turns out that in real life, no, it’s not that easy to use, at least not any easier than most of the other methods I’ve used. And while it might be useful for somethings it isn’t some kind of miraculous super finish. And it has some serious drawbacks including the fact that it is potentially dangerous. The danger is slight, true, but it’s still there, and I’ll talk about that at the end of this segment. Is it useful? In some cases, yes. But it isn’t going to replace my usual finishing methods.

All you need to make OBSJ

You can’t buy this stuff, you have to make it, but there are only 3 ingredients and all are easily available and fairly cheap. Boiled linseed oil, shellac (most of the recipes call specifically for Zinsser shellac apparently because Zinsser seems to be the only company that still makes the stuff) and denatured alcohol. Just chuck equal parts of each into a bottle, shake it up, and there you go.

I didn’t have Zinsser’s on the shelf because I make my own shellac. I could have used my own but most of the recipes for this stuff called for Zinsser specifically, and I wanted to stick with the instructions exactly for this test. I ran down to the local hardware store and found some and scurried home with my prize.

Right off the bat I started to have doubts about all of this because as soon as I opened that can I began frowning.

Now the shellac I make is in that photo over there on the left, almost completely clear, no cloudiness, a nice golden amber color that dries clear and almost colorless, and the only thing you can smell when you open that jar is the alcohol. I’ve said before that I really, really like shellac. It’s a great sealer, sanding sealer, and even makes a pretty darn good final finish if you use one of the thicker cuts. So I figured the commercial stuff would look pretty much like what’s in that jar.

This is shellac? Seriously?

I was wrong. When I opened that can of Zinsser’s… Oh dear. This stuff was just nasty. I mean seriously nasty. Thick, cloudy, even muddy looking. And it smelled just as nasty as it looked. First thing I thought was that somehow I’d got a bad batch or something. So the next day I went to a different hardware store and bought another one. I popped it open and it was exactly the same. How old was this stuff, anyway? Shellac has a limited shelf life. I looked all over the can and I couldn’t find a manufacturing date or an expiration date or anything that might indicate when it was made. So for all I knew this stuff had been sitting on the shelf for years.

Well, I wanted to follow the instructions exactly so I mixed the stuff up using the Zinsser’s anyway. I mixed 4 oz of each of the three products and, frankly, it didn’t look very good. Or smell very good. But let’s try it and see what happens.

I had a small, simple ambrosia maple bowl on the lathe that I’d just finished sanding and decided to try it on that. The instructions for using the stuff are pretty simple. Just slather the stuff on using a paper towel until the wood doesn’t absorb it any more. Then spin up the lathe and start applying very, very light coats until the wood doesn’t seem to be absorbing anything and then start to slowly buff it out. So that’s what I did.

I didn’t have high hopes for this stuff, but I have to admit that it turned out fairly nice.

But to be honest, it isn’t as nice as I’d hoped it would be, and certainly isn’t as nice as the proponents of this stuff claim. Nor is it as easy to use as they claim. In fact it is considerably more time consuming and difficult to use properly than my usual method of just putting several seal coats of thin shellac on a piece of wood followed by carnauba wax and buffing it out.

First thing I discovered is dear lord do not use paper towels, which is what a lot of these guys recommend. Paper towels began to disintegrate almost immediately, leaving shreds of paper all over the wood. I ended up having to go over the whole thing with OOOO steel wool to remove the tiny paper shreds and start over using a piece of lint free fabric.

Second, this is not a fast process. They make it seem so fast and easy in the videos. It isn’t. It takes a considerable amount of time, and many, many coats of this stuff before it starts to get even close to glossy. And it took me quite a while before I began to figure out just how much pressure and how much ‘juice’ to use to get it to start to buff out properly.

Does it work, though? Sort of. The end result looks pretty good. I can see this being useful for projects that have a lot of detail and odd shapes where it would be difficult to get waxes or other finishes into all of the little nooks and crannies. But is it something I’ll use frequently? Probably not.

Now, the dangerous bit. I’m not joking around here – linseed oil is a serious fire hazard. It generates heat as it dries, a lot of heat. Enough to cause rags, paper towels, etc. to spontaneously combust. I like to think I am not a paranoid person, but linseed oil scares me because I’ve seen this happen in real life. This stuff can and will cause fires if you don’t handle it properly.

Is OB shine juice a potential fire hazard then? It is only one third linseed oil so the risk is probably minimal. But do you want to take the chance? I don’t. The rags I used for this project were soaked in a material that contains alcohol, which is highly flammable, plus linseed oil which can spontaneously combust. Do you think I’m going to keep that in the house? I may be crazy but I’m not stupid (I hope). They were immediately dumped into a container of water and taken outside and they’ll end up in the firepit. Am I being paranoid? Maybe. Don’t care. I’m not going to take the chance.

It seems that if there is a space anywhere where I can shove wood, there is wood shoved into that space.

Cleaning – ah, yes, cleaning… I was getting tired of not being able to find stuff and having to dig through all of the clutter in the shop. And finding piles of dust, dead spiders, cobwebs, bits of sandpaper, pieces of wood piled all over, etc. whenever I moved something. So I started cleaning up the shop and trying to organize things better.

And what do I do with some of this stuff? I have a $200 biscuit joiner that I used exactly once about 15 years ago that’s been gathering dust ever since. I have jigs that cost some serious money and were used once before I figured out that setting the damned jig up and doing test cuts to fine tune it took three times longer than just doing the job by hand. A half dozen plastic carrying cases for tools I don’t have any more (why didn’t I toss those years ago???). There’s an ancient Skil router with a bad collet that I can’t get parts for. I found three (three??? How did I end up with three???) scroll saws. A couple of dozen paper bags filled with screws and nails of every imaginable size. But of course none of them are ever the size I actually need for a specific project so I have to buy more. And then there are the bits and pieces that obviously came off of some tool, somewhere, but what tool? What were they used for? Should I just throw it away? Of course if I throw it away I’ll almost immediately remember that I really needed it…

And wood stuck away everywhere… Sheesh. But then is there even such a thing as having too much wood?

Anyway, it’s cleaning time!

Catching Up: Light Finished, Purple Thing, and What a Mess

That sort of arts & crafts style decorative light is finally completely finished. I made a matching lid for it, permanently installed an 120V LED lamp inside of it and I’m actually pretty pleased with it.

I think it turned out well. The only real issue is that the lid is a bit loose fitting and slides around about 1/8 of an inch or so. as you can see in the photo. The dopey camera in my iPhone simply cannot take a decent photo of lighted objects, but here’s one anyway. There’s no way to adjust the exposure or defeat the metering algorithms used in the iPhone camera, and I was too lazy to dig out the real camera to take a photo just for this, so this is what I’m stuck with. Oh, well. Anyway, I’m really pleased with this one.

The purple thing I showed you after I pulled it out of the pressure tank, that one – meh… I hate to call it a complete failure because it was an experiment and experiments often do fail for a variety of reasons. So if nothing else it was a learning experience. The resin turned out way, way too intensely colored, and the addition of the wood shavings didn’t help things at all. I’d hoped it would be useful as a lamp, but the resin was way too dark and there was too much wood shavings in the mix to permit it to be translucent.

It actually looked pretty promising when I first pulled it out of the mold and put it on the lathe. The color looked pretty nice on the surface. But once I got it going… If you’re interested in what a project like this looks like while in progress, here’s what it looks like after I started to work with it on the lathe and was roughing it out to shape.

Not exactly impressive looking, is it? Downright ugly, in fact. But that’s the case with almost all projects like this, the intermediate stages don’t look anything at all like the finished product that’s been sanded and polished. What it finally turned out to be was this.

This one is probably going to get thrown out.

Not exactly impressive, but not utterly horrible, I suppose. You can sort of see the wood shavings there in the resin, but overall it would have been better if they hadn’t been in there at all. And I used way too much coloring as well. I have to admit that there is a very good chance this one is going to end up in the trash. The only reason I finished it was because I wanted to see what the final result would be like.

But this is, after all, a learning process. I learn more from my mistakes than I do from anything else, so even this wasn’t a waste of time.

One interesting thing I’ve learned is that when you throw something like this into a pressure tank and let it sit at about 60 PSI it does some interesting things to the wood that I hadn’t noticed before. The wood parts looked completely normal, but they weren’t really, well, wood any more. It has been so thoroughly saturated with the resin that the wood behaved more like resin when I was machining this thing. I hadn’t noticed that before, so I imagine that the species of wood, its moisture content and other things may have something to do with that.

Oh, in case you’re interested, this is what it looks like when I’m actually working on a resin project on the lathe.

Do I really need to tell you that you absolutely have to wear protective gear when doing this? At the very least you need a good respirator with the proper filters and an impact resistant full face shield.

Holy cow it gets messy! If you’re using sharp tools, the resin, which is essentially just plastic, peels off in long, long thin strings that fly all over the place and cover me pretty much from head to foot.

Generally when I’m done working with the lathe I have to go over my whole body with the shop vac to get all of the dust and debris off me. Including vacuuming my hair.

Dust, dust everywhere.

I’ve been doing a lot of fiddling around with wood of late, and because my shop is located in the basement dust has become a significant issue, especially now that the weather has turned cold. I’m not talking about wood shavings and the like, that stuff is fairly easy to deal with. I mean the fine particulates that get into the air and can float around for a long time. During the warmer months it’s not a real problem. I stick exhaust fans in the windows and all the dust gets sucked outside. But now that the house is closed up, the dust is a real problem.

One cheap and easy to implement method of dust control that I’ve resorted to is the good old fashioned duct tape a furnace filter to a box fan trick. And that’s what I’ve done in the past. It really does work. Judging from how fast the filters get dirty, it pulls a lot of crap out of the air before it gets into the rest of the house. But judging from how often I’m having to change the furnace filters and the amount of dust still getting into the rest of the house, it isn’t adequate to deal with the situation any longer. So I went and bought an actual real air filtration system in the hopes it will deal with the problem better than my existing methods. That is supposed to be arriving Saturday. This one costs about $200 which I suppose isn’t ridiculously expensive. It’s supposed to filter down to 3 microns, whatever that means, but I’m told that’s pretty good. Once I get this thing set up and running I’ll let you know how it works out.

Sunrise, Christmas Cactus, Cake Plate Project and WTF is he trying now?

The christmas cactus is now in full bloom and looking spectacular! I don’t know how MrsGF does it, but this cactus of hers puts on these amazing shows of color at least twice a year. But she also brings in an outdoor rose bush and somehow keeps it blossoming most of the winter as well, and I don’t know how she does that, either.

I haven’t had to get up early in the morning for a long time but I still have this silly habit of waking up ridiculously early in the morning, usually just before sunrise. It’s worth it, though. The sunrise this morning was absolutely beautiful. Seeing the silhouette of the trees against those pinks and oranges and reds was a gentle reminder of just how beautiful this world can be if you take the time to just sit back and see what’s around you.

I’ve been puttering along with the cake plate project and I finally finished the top platter the other day. The final shaping is done and I spent way, way too long sanding and smoothing it down, then sealing it and putting several coats of wax on it. Even the bottom of it looks pretty good.

Yes, your eyes are not deceiving you, there are holes in that wood, worm/insect holes. This is “ambrosia” maple. These striking colors and patterns are caused by a fungus carried by the ambrosia beetle. It’s beautiful stuff but you have to deal with the holes left in the wood as well sometimes. I’ll be sealing those up with epoxy. It will eventually be perched on a short pedestal made of the same wood.

Even I question my mental stability sometimes.

So, I have lots and lots of wood shavings. I have a bunch of ‘free’ resin left. So, I thought, what happens if you shove a whole bunch of random wood shavings into a plastic tub and fill it with violet resin? That’s the question that absolutely, well, that absolutely no one has been asking. So, of course, I decided to try it because hey, why not?

So I stuffed a plastic tub full of random wood shavings from various turning projects, glued some wood discs on the top and bottom to hold everything in place, then got out the last of my ‘free’ resin and mixed it up, dumped in a bunch of “Shimmer Violet” iridescent coloring, and almost immediately regretted it because holy cow it’s weird looking.

It’s a good thing this Naked Fusion “Deep Pour” has a long pot life because took a long time to pour this, with lots of banging, tamping and poking around with sticks to try to get all the air out of that mess.

I suspect this is going to be a complete failure, but, what the heck. I don’t think I’ve ever written about the projects I’ve tried that have been utter failures. Fortunately I’ve had very few complete failures over the years. But this one looks like it’s going to be one where I’ll look back on it and say “what the hell was I even thinking?” Well, it’s in the pressure tank right now so I’ll see in about two days. If you don’t see anything here about it in the near future it’s because it was so ugly I couldn’t figure out what the heck to do with it.

More on Resin Casting

I got very impatient to see how the green blob over there on the left would turn out so I set aside the cake plate project for the time being to work on this new one. It didn’t look all that promising when I started out, and I had some issues with the thing as I started to work with it. But finally I ended up with something with a relatively pleasing shape and look to it, fitted the lamp into the thing, and the end result is below.

I still need to make a top for it. Rather than go for a high polish I left the translucent parts a mat finish. I think it looks better that way.

And it has some problems. If you look at the middle photo you’ll see some cracks in the top wooden ring. I don’t know if those were in the wood to begin with and I didn’t notice them, or if they developed as I worked on the piece.

All things considered, it’s not too bad for my third attempt at this. I’ve made quite a few mistakes but at least I’ve ended up with three projects that weren’t too bad for a beginning. And I’ve learned a lot.

I really need to do more experimenting with color mixing. I’m not at all satisfied with how some of the colors turn out.

Unpotting the – the ‘thing’

It’s been sitting in the pressure tank for about 48 hours now, so let’s open that sucker up and see what we got…

Eeewww… Well, that’s not too encouraging looking

Yeah, not sure about that color. Not at all

He’s going to make this into a lamp? Seriously? He must be nuts.

Demolding requires large rubber hammers. Did you know that? Well, I require them. Great fun beating on large hunks of plastic with hammers. And now that I got it in decent light, that color doesn’t look too bad. Let’s get it out of the mold

Ooo, I kinda like that. All shimmery and stuff. It still needs to sit another 24 hours before it can go on the lathe. It’s still tacky to the touch.

Meanwhile I got this going…

This is going to be the top plate for a pedestal cake stand. I hope. Maybe. This puppy is literally nearly touching the bed of the lathe. About 12″ across. Damn, this better work. I’m not even going to tell you how much that hunk of wood cost me. If all goes well, this is going to be a Christmas gift for MrsGF. Or it will fit nicely into the neighbor’s firepit if it goes bad.

Before And After, Working with Resin, Christmas Cactus, and Stuff

I really should take more ‘before and after’ type photos of these little experiments because it’s interesting to see what a project looked like at the start and what it ended up as. My latest resin casting experiment started out looking like that over there on the right. Basically it looks like a vaguely iridescent plastic blob in a tub, and the end result is in that photo at the top.

If you want to see what it looks like lighted up there’s a short video way down at the end of this.

I didn’t take much care in designing this thing, I just basically chucked some wood scraps I thought were neat looking into the mold, mixed up some resin and dumped it in and this is what I got. I really need to take more care in planning out the actual design of what I want, especially for something that’s going to have a light in it as this one does. It doesn’t do much for the look of a lighted piece if there’s too much wood blocking the light from showing through.

My third experiment is currently in the pressure tank and should be ready for unmolding by Wednesday. This one is taller and wider than the previous two. And unlike the first two this one was actually done with some planning. The current one is going to be interesting for a couple of reasons. First it’s going to be more resin than wood. The previous two were mostly wood scraps with the voids filled with resin. Second, it’s a considerably larger pour than the others, about 40 ounces in total. I already don’t like the color. I had about 5 ounces of resin left over sitting in the mixing cup and looked at this morning and I’m disappointed with the coloring. But I won’t know for sure until I get it unmolded, shaped and lighted up, not just tea light holders like the first two. This one is designed to be an actual lamp. I already have a LED lamp insert ready to go for this one.

So, what have I learned?

First, there are an enormous number of different manufacturers and types of resin out there, and most of them aren’t going to be suitable for the kind of thing I’m doing. A lot of the ‘hobbyist’ kinds of resins are only intended for small, thin pours or for coating table and counter tops and that kind of thing. What I am doing are so-called ‘deep pours’ of two or more inches in depth, and the resin being used must be formulated to work that way.

Some of these resins are toxic. Read the specifications very, very carefully and follow all safety instructions. The stuff I’m using has no VOCs or fumes and is safe to use indoors with proper ventilation. Some of the stuff is downright nasty. So make sure you are aware of any safety concerns before using it.

Resin is not difficult to machine on the lathe. I’ve used both steel and carbide tools with equally good results. As long as the tools are very sharp there doesn’t seem to be a problem. It is, however, difficult to sand, and can clog sandpaper quickly, especially if spinning the object too fast in the lathe. What seems to happen is that friction will heat up the resin to the point of melting into the sandpaper and clogging it up. Keep lathe speed down, way down.

The longer a resin project sits, the more prone it is to chipping. The curing process continues long after the object is solid enough to work with, it seems. Of course this is going to be different with different types of resin. What works for me and the product I’m using may not work for others. With the stuff I’m using, the “sweet spot”, so to speak, seems to be 4 – 7 days. Before that, it’s too soft to work with. After that chipping becomes a concern. I can still work with it, but I have to be very careful, use very sharp tools, and be patient.

If you scrounge around Youtube and look at videos of guys turning resin projects, you’ll see them going to extraordinary, even obsessive lengths to polish the stuff, sanding it up to 4,000 grit or even higher, wet sanding (sorry, I did enough wet sanding when I worked in an autobody shop, I sure as heck don’t want to start dealing with that mess now) then using abrasive polishing pastes and buffing wheels and I don’t know what all else. That all seemed just a wee bit excessive to me. I rarely sand wood beyond 240 or 320 grit. Experience has told me that going farther than that isn’t going to make much difference, if any at all, on the final finish. And I wondered if that might be the case with resin. So I’ve been sanding my resin projects up to about 400 grit, then sealing the wood, a quick sand at 400, then carefully clean the piece and then slap a coat of wax on it and buff it out, and the stuff looks just as shiny and nice to me as the projects where these guys spend hours, even days polishing to perfection.

I only have two completed resin projects, of course, so my experience is extremely limited, so there is every chance I’m wrong about this. But so far I don’t see any reason to go to the extraordinary lengths some of these guys resort to in order to get a high gloss surface.

Anyway, I’m having fun with this and just ordered about $200 worth of resin so I can keep playing around. Hopefully this batch will be packaged better and won’t arrive with a punctured bottle.

Oh, the cactus! Almost forgot about that. It’s just coming into blossom right now and it looks like it’s going to be spectacular once it comes into full bloom.

Weather has been utterly amazing the last few days. Temps in the low 70s, sunny. It’s hard to believe we’re on the cusp of winter. We’ve been enjoying it while we can because we know what’s coming. Went out and drove around for a while in the convertible the other day. I actually put more miles on the bicycle this year than I did on the Corvette. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is a bit disappointing. All of our travel plans were disrupted by the virus. So we adapt and go on, right? That’s all you can do.

Here’s a short video of the new project while lighted up.

New Resin cast

I just pulled the new resin cast out of the pressure tank and it’s looking pretty good.

I really like the color on this one. It’s an iridescent emerald with a bit of bright yellow mixed in. It was in the pressure tank for 48 hours at 60 PSI to deal with bubbles and seems pretty clear as far as I can tell at this point. It’s nice and firm but a bit tacky to the touch so it needs to cure a while longer before I can start working with it.

There’s wood in there. Somewhere.

Now the question is what to do with the thing? I’m still leaning towards making a lamp out of it. I’ll see once I get it on the lathe and start working with it.