Using Free Wood, and What’s Coming Up. And Happy Cat Video?

Slab wood cut from a walnut log during the process of milling it into boards.

Once you start woodturning you rather quickly find out that if you buy wood from commercial sources to feed your woodturning addiction that the cost for wood from those sources is really expensive. A standardized woodturning blank from commercial sources generally is about 6″ to 8″ square, and about 2″ to 3″ thick. Cost of a typical blank can run from $10 or so at the low end up to $75 or even more depending on the species of wood. And as the size gets larger, the price goes up dramatically.

But there is a lot of free wood out there if you can be bothered to go look for it. Like that piece in the photo up there.

Now I have to admit that I completely forgot had this stuff laying around until MrsGF and I found these slabs laying around in the garage when we were cleaning it out this fall. A friend of a friend had cut down some black walnut trees on his property years ago and had them milled into lumber by a portable sawmill. When cutting logs into lumber you end up with these slabs where the bark was sliced off and generally there isn’t much you can do with them except turn them into mulch or firewood. But this was black walnut, which is ridiculously expensive, really nice, and some of the slabs were thick enough in places that I thought I could use them for something so I snagged some of them and stuck them in the garage and immediately forgot about them for something like six years until we stumbled across them a month or so ago.

We now have the time and ambition to finally get around to doing something with this stuff. At least one of the slabs is thick enough, wide enough and long enough to perhaps turn into a garden bench. But a lot of it didn’t look too promising until I thought hey, can I make bowls out of some of this stuff. So I cut it up into manageable sizes with the chainsaw, carried some of it down into the shop and started to experiment with the stuff and the first experiment turned out looking like this.

That, by the way, is a Sjobergs workbench. I definitely do not recommend them. But I bought into the hype and despite the insane cost bought one of the things and almost immediately started regretting it. It isn’t that well made, is ridiculously light weight, the materials aren’t that good, there is pretty much nothing about that bench that justifies the price.

Not bad for a piece of free wood, I thought.

If you look around you can find free wood just about everywhere. On any given day I can drive around the towns around here and find people trimming or cutting down trees, and most of that wood is going to end up either being chipped for mulch or composted. Most people won’t mind at all if you ask nicely to take a few bits of it.

Wood shows up all the time at my town’s compost site from people who’ve cut down or trimmed trees. They are only supposed to be dropping off easily chipped brush down there, but a lot of people can’t seem to be able to read the signs and we regularly end up with large branches and even tree trunks being dumped down there. You might have seen me down there with my little battery chain saw whacking off bits and pieces that might be useful, along with the locals who burn wood for heat.

And don’t forget Craig’s List! Start scrolling through the “Free” section of the listings and you’ll find dozens of people just begging someone, anyone, to come get the remains of trees they had to cut down.

If you do get your hands on some of this free wood, some caution is called for, however. There can be some issues with this stuff you need to be aware of.

The first is infestations of bugs. You never know what might be living in that wood. I would never store free wood inside the house or even in the garage unless I was sure it was free from things like carpenter ants, beetles, etc. Anything questionable ends up being burned in the fireplace out in the backyard while MrsGF and I sit around it with a beverage or two.

Rot is something you’ll have to deal with too. Now there are ways you can deal with rotted wood so you can still get something useful out of it by soaking it in types of epoxy resin and preservatives and all that. Frankly, don’t bother. Yes, you can do it but it isn’t worth the effort in my opinion. You need things like a vacuum tank, special wood preservatives and other equipment… Ain’t worth it. Chuck it into the firepit and move on to a solid piece of wood.

Nails, screws, wire and other nasties buried in the wood is also something you need to watch out for. People have this nasty habit of attaching things to living trees. They nail ornaments to them, screw signs to them, hang birdhouses to them, etc. and leave the hardware in the wood. Hitting a nail, screw or other bit of metal embedded in a piece of wood with a saw or gouge is not fun. It isn’t easy to find the stuff either because the tree can grow around the object and completely enclose it. Always inspect any piece of wood carefully before you start sawing it up or putting it on the lathe. Metal detectors specifically designed to find nails and the like in wood have come down in price quite dramatically in the last couple of decades. It might not be a bad idea to pick one up.

If you don’t mind glueing up your own blanks from bits and pieces of boards (You can get some really nice looking turning blanks from odds and ends glued together.) there is a lot of free stuff like that out there. Again, check Craig’s List free section and other sources like that. You’ll find odds and ends of lumber people had left over from remodeling and construction projects and things like that. Even some old furniture made from solid wood will end up sitting out on the curb that can be disassembled and used to glue up something useful.

Pallets – the damned things are everywhere, and nobody seems to want them. Should you consider old pallets as a source for turning wood? Personally I wouldn’t use them for a variety of reasons. The wood is generally very thin, rough cut so it would have to be planed before it could be glued up into a blank. They’re a pain in the ass to take apart and get all the nails and staples out of. Tearing apart a pallet to try to get wood to glue up into a turning blank seems like an awful lot of work for very little reward. And, frankly, you don’t know where the hell that thing has been and what it has been exposed to. For all you know that pallet had some toxic chemicals spilled all over it before it ended up in the “free wood” bin or out on the curb where you found it.

The last issue you need to deal with is the fact that a lot of this stuff is cut directly from living trees that were just cut down, so it is very, very wet and you need to be able to deal with that. Now I know a lot of turners who like working with wet wood and have developed ways of dealing with it, and if you’re one of those, that’s fantastic. But if you’re like me and you prefer to work with wood that is already dried, you need to be prepared to store this stuff for a long, long time before it’s going to be dried down to a usable moisture level, or you need to be able to dry it yourself. The walnut slabs I’m working with right now sat in a dry environment (my garage) for about 5 or 6 years so they’re down to about 10% – 15% moisture which I consider to be reasonably low enough for me to work with them without a lot of issues. But a lot of this stuff is going to be dripping wet when you get it. So you’re going to need to either store it in a protected area for a considerable amount of time for it to dry naturally, or you’re going to have to dry it yourself. There are plans out there on the internet for making your own drying boxes to accelerate the process and some of them even work reasonably well.

What’s Coming Up

Oh, oh… He’s got something cooking in the pot. Now we’re in trouble.

I’m working on the 2nd part of the intro to resin thing I’ve been doing. Yes, really I am. I haven’t forgotten about it. The project that I’ve been cooking up to accompany the 2nd part is curing in the pressure pot even as I write this and should be coming out tomorrow. I’ve got videos and everything for this one.

Well, I hope I’ll have videos. I’m still not sure if I’m using that dopey camera right. Anyway that will be coming up sometime in the next couple of weeks if all goes well.

I got in a new parting tool from a company called Woodpeckers that I’m waiting to try out. I’ve tried a variety of different parting tools since I got into this and I haven’t really liked any of them very much. The cheap carbide ones that seem to be made by the millions by some outfit in China and sold under a variety of different brand names not only don’t work very well and wear out quickly, they are just -just nasty all the way around. The one I use most often is an old fashioned steel one from Sorby which works but needs to be sharpened a lot.

Oh, and Happy Cat! I almost forgot about her… Let’s see I got that video somewhere…

Gardening Catch Up

Wow it’s been busy here. Well, at least when it hasn’t been raining, which it seems to have been doing almost the entire month of May. I’d say we’ve had maybe 5 nice days out of the last 30. The rest of the time it’s either been raining, or cold with temperatures never getting much above 55 degrees, or both at the same time. The farms around here are running weeks behind with planting. Well, so is most of the midwest. This time of year we should have just about all of the corn crop planted. Instead we have about 45% of the crop in the ground because the fields around here look like this:

We’re at the point now where if farmers can’t get the corn in the ground in the next few days they might as well not bother at all. Every day’s delay means a significant reduction in yield, and it isn’t going to be long before even the faster growing varieties won’t reach maturity before we get frost in the fall.

The commodities markets were so distracted by the trade wars going on that they didn’t notice the weather problems we’ve had, but they sure have now. Corn prices have shot up over $1 per bushel in the last week and a half, and are now sitting around $4.30 on the Chicago market.

But I wanted to talk about gardening, not farming, so let’s drop that and get on with this.

It was a hard winter here, which was easy to tell from looking at our yard, especially behind the house. The decorative plantings got especially hard hit, and the decorative area back there was an absolute mess.

The bark mulch had disappeared, for the most part, probably floating off in the heavy rains, the rest was discolored and deteriorating badly, parts of the area had sunk in where the old koi pond had been, the irises were drowning, it was pretty bad back there. So we decided the whole thing had to be redone. So we started digging up the old plants, moving rocks, putting in something like 250 retaining wall blocks, and about a week of work, and this is what we ended up with.

Still a lot of work to do but we’re getting there. You can see the raised vegetable beds off to the right.

We still have a lot of work to do to finish it off obviously. Some of the block have to be straightened up, some things moved around, but we’re relatively pleased with the result. One problem is that boulder sitting there. I moved that sucker there when I still had the tractor because it seemed like a good idea at the time and since the tractor got sold, well that’s where it’s going to stay, so we’re stuck with it and have to work around it.

It’s still pretty messy back there and we have a lot to do. We’re debating whether or not we want to put capstones along the top of the retaining walls. We have probably several more yards of dirt to haul in to fill the planting bed, a lot of crushed rock for the area around and behind the boulder, lots of plants to transplant into there and buy, and probably a truckload or two of mulch.

The old stone wall containing the garden at the back of the garage isn’t in good shape either any more. You can see what’s left of it here at the back of the garage. It’s just barely hanging on and needs to be replaced. But we’re pretty sick of putting in retaining walls at the moment so we’ll let this go another year and worry about it next spring. Despite the cold, wet weather you can see the raspberries are doing pretty good back there.

The 55 gallon drum you see in the background behind the lilac at the corner of the garage is our rain recovery system. There’s a piping system attached to the rain gutters that diverts water into the barrel that we use for watering plants in the dry season. Works pretty well. That’s generally enough to handle all of potted plants around the house. Not enough to deal with the vegetable gardens as well, but it helps a lot in keeping the water bill down during the summer.

We’ve cut back on the vegetable plantings this year. We had ridiculous amounts of tomatoes last year so we cut way back on that. Lots of pepper plants, though. We seem to go through a lot of those. But tomatoes? We still have quarts and quarts of canned tomatoes on the shelves from last year, although we did run out of soup and spaghetti sauce.

That opened up space in the raised beds so we put in a variety of onions this year to see how that works. I love being able to just go out in the backyard and dig up fresh onions when I need them during the summer. But the area where we were planting onions until now didn’t work very well because it was getting shaded out by the trees. The onions would start out well but would never grow very big because of the lack of light.

But then I have this going on right now —

She’s been sitting there staring at me for the last half hour waiting for her breakfast so I suppose I better feed the little goof.

How To Draw A Cat (Recycled from old Tumblr account)

how to draw cat.png

I thought I’d put this one up here at the same time I posted it on the old Tumblr account but I can’t seem to find it here. So here you go, how to draw your very own cat.

I have no idea what was going through my head when I drew this. Sometimes weird stuff just pops up in my brain.

New Photos And How Stupid Am I (Very)

Even though today is officially the start of spring it sure doesn’t feel that way. Temperature around 34 degrees, cloudy… We’re impatient to get outside and do something again.

Nevertheless, I had the camera out and was taking some photos of the indoor plants, some of which are flowering right now.

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This guy is sitting in the kitchen window at the moment. Those flowers are only about a quarter of an inch across. Here’s another shot of a different cluster of flowers on the same plant with different lighting…

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That camera does a great job taking closeups like that.

Another plant in flower at the moment is this one:

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I love this plant. The color of the leaves, the texture, and those tiny little pink flowers that are about the size of the head of a pin. It’s a lot of fun.

MrsGF’s violets are in full bloom too right now:

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Then there’s this really weird plant…

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That’s Kai. I’m very surprised she held still long enough for me to get that photo. She usually runs away when she sees me with a camera.


And now, on to the stupidity…

Nothing makes me look dumber than when something goes wrong with my radio equipment sometimes. This one was a real gem, though.

For some reason the TS-990 decided to stop transmitting AM and I couldn’t figure out why. Everything seemed to be working just fine otherwise. I could still use SSB, the digital modes, FM, all were working fine. But when I keyed the mic using AM, it would go into transmit mode, but no signal.

I spent something like two hours this morning trying to diagnose what the problem was. As a last resort I got out my morse code key and hooked that up. Not sure why. Just was trying to eliminate other things as problems. I tried sending my callsign in CW and…

And nothing. Same symptoms as the AM problem. It went into transmit, but no signal, no power going to the antenna.

Hmph… I went on line and searched around, found out there was an update for the radio’s firmware, so I downloaded that and installed. That went well. In fact, better than well because now the noise blanker works the way it’s supposed to and some other little things were fixed. But same problem as before, no AM and no CW.

I pulled out the manual once more and started to dig through that and…

Oh. Oh, brother… All right, look, the 990 is a very complicated piece of equipment. I mean it has controls and knobs and buttons on it that I’ve never used in the almost four years I’ve owned the thing. So I suppose I can be excused for not noticing this.

Most of the knobs on the radio are “nested”, that is there is a central knob that controls one function, and an outer ring around the central knob that controls an entirely different function.

The Power knob which controls the rig’s output power is the central knob. The outer ring is something labeled “Car” which stands for carrier. The carrier setting is essential to transmitting in CW and AM modes. I normally have it set dead center right in the middle. But since I almost never do CW or AM I almost never touch it. But I do use the Power knob to adjust the wattage going out to the antenna or feeding into the amplifier.

Somewhere along the way, the Car knob got a bit sticky and started to track along with the Power knob when it was turned. But only in one direction: down. When I turned the power down, it was also dragging the carrier knob down towards zero, but not dragging it back up when the power was turned back up. Eventually the carrier was turned down to nothing. So without a carrier, there was no AM or CW.

Sigh… Spent more than two hours trouble shooting a problem that didn’t really exist. All I had to do was turn the Car knob back up to the center position and all was well.

And now I just found out my amplifier relay isn’t working… How did I get into this hobby in the first place?

Warm Kitties

Screen Shot 2017-12-23 at 5.45.08 AMThe siamese are warm at last!

The little goof balls spend the time from November through March trying to keep warm. It doesn’t matter how warm we keep the house, they’re still cold. They spend all of their free time going from one furnace vent to another trying to keep their little cat toes warm. It’s rather pathetic, really, seeing them huddled up together by the vents trying to keep warm.

So I decided to do something about it this winter. I bought a heated cat bed off Amazon. Wasn’t real expensive,  under $40. It has a heating pad in it. Not a very warm one, just 4 watts, with a pressure sensor that only turns it on when one of the cats is actually in the bed.

MrsGF scoffed. The siamese aren’t exactly all that smart, she reminded me, and they’d never figure out what it was. She did have a point. I’ve bought things for them before that other cats love; scratching posts, cat houses, toys, etc. And they look at the stuff, then look at me with this “what the hell is this?” kind of expression on their faces, and then go huddle in front of the furnace vents.

But not this time. It took Jay, the gray one at the rear, all of 5 minutes to figure out it was A) a bed, B) it was warm, and C) it was his. I’d hardly got the thing out of the box, plugged in and tested, and he was in it, all curled up and purring away.  It took Meg, the seal point, a lot longer. Even after seeing her brother sitting in it she wasn’t sure what it was. But yesterday I went looking for them and there she was, curled up in it with Jay.

It’s been an interesting adventure with these two. They were young adults when we got them, healthy but completely unsocialized, even terrified of people. They didn’t even act like cats. we almost never saw them. Food would disappear, the litter boxes were being used, there were no messes or disasters, and when we did see them they looked healthy, so we just left them alone. Every once in a while they would forget that they were terrified and start to act like normal cats. We’d hear them running around the house late at night playing.

We didn’t push things with them. As long as they were healthy and seemed to be doing well, we just left them alone. We were afraid of traumatizing them more than they already were. It took a long, long time, but they finally became, well, cats. Meg now likes to sit next to MrsGF on the sofa in the morning, head butts her and rubs against her to get back rubs and head scratches. Jay comes out in the kitchen when I’m cooking and talks to me (siamese can be very vocal. You can have actual conversations with some of them) and rubs against my ankles and wants his back scratched. They’re waiting for us when we get up in the morning, dancing around and chattering at us. Jay is downright playful. He chases small balls around the house, loves to play with shoe laces.

I don’t know what it is about me and cats. I’ve had dogs and I’ve loved them all, but cats? I’ve always been fascinated by cats, ever since I was a toddler. Especially siamese. We’ve had siamese since, oh, the early 1980s, most of them either rescued or from households where they weren’t wanted, and they are absolutely amazing creatures that I still find endlessly fascinating.