New Computer, Movies, Fall, and Stuff

That’s the new one on the right. Smaller than the old one was but unlike the old one it actually works.

I hate moving to a new computer and try to avoid it as long as I possibly can, which is why my MacBook Pro up there on the left has been still limping along despite it being about 10 – 12 years old and having a wonky screen that sometimes made me open and close the lid a dozen times before it was readable. That Macbook gets used a lot. It lives in the kitchen where it’s used for emails, reading the news, looking up recipes, sorting photos and writing this blog. That it’s lasted this long is a bit of a miracle. My attempt to replace it with the iPad were very awkward. I could have done it but the iPad was just too clumsy, the software uncooperative with the way I liked to do things, and too limited in its capabilities. The iPad is great for must messing around, playing games, reading and things like that, but despite Apple’s efforts, it just isn’t a full blown computer. It’s basically an oversized iPhone without the phone.

I originally was not going to get another Macbook Pro. Don’t get me wrong, I love the things. I love the whole Apple “ecosystem”, as they call it. But Macbooks are expensive, and I wasn’t willing to spend $1,500 or more for one. But…

I’ve had really good luck with refurbished computers. I’ve bought several over the years for various reasons. You can often pick up a refurbed computer that’s only a few years old for a fraction of the original retail cost. And that’s what I did here, I picked up a three or four year old refurbished Macbook Pro for a third of the cost of a new one. And it’s pretty darned nice. It arrived in a plain cardboard box with nothing but the power supply/charger, which was fine too. And upon opening it, well, the thing looks like it is brand new except for a very small dent in the lid which doesn’t seem to hurt anything.

Biggest problem with adopting a new computer is moving all my stuff from the old computer to the new one. But Apple makes that easy too. Just connect the two laptops together with a USB cable, start up a migration assistant app, and a little over an hour later everything on the old computer was on the new one. I had to verify a few things like passwords and log in information, but that was about it. When it was all done the new computer looked and worked pretty much exactly like the old computer did, with a few minor differences because some of the apps I used were now newer versions.

There are two things I don’t like about the new one. The keyboard is without a doubt the worst laptop keyboard I’ve ever had to use. I’ve typed on everything from 1960s era IBM keypunch machines (seriously, I’ve had crank out those ancient punch cards to program computers once upon a time) to the original (and excellent) IBM PC keyboards, to a variety of cheap slush boxes, to the excellent mechanical keyboards made today, and everything else imaginable. And I’ve never seen a keyboard that was this bad before.

The other thing I don’t like is that this thing only has USB-C ports. One of the things I’ve always found irritating about Apple is that they often are obsessed with form over function. They get what they think is a good idea into their heads over there and run with it, and the hell with whatever anyone else thinks, wants and even needs. Now USB-C is, probably, a good thing. But millions of us out here are still using devices that require the original USB plugs. And a lot of us are photographers who need to transfer photos to computers with SD cards. And Apple has given me neither of those. Grr… So I’m going to have get a stupid adaptor to hook things up or read SD cards from my camera.

Movies: Warning, Thor Spoilers

I want to talk about movies for a while. I’m not a huge fan of the genre, to be honest. I hate going to theaters. My idea of a good time is not being sandwiched in between a bunch of people who haven’t bathed in three weeks, who are constantly checking their cell phones, munching on snacks they smuggled in, and talking all through the quiet parts of the dialog.

I also think that a lot of the most hyped movies out there are, frankly, crap. I hated the Lord of the Rings, but to be honest I thought the novels were even worse. Avatar? I couldn’t make it more than half an hour into that thing before I bailed out. And and my feelings include a lot of Marvel movies.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was just plain nasty. The only bright spot in the entire movie was Awkwafina, who plays Simu Liu’s sidekick. The whole movie was just one cliche after another. But perhaps I’m jaded because I watch a lot of Chinese television where they’ve been making much, much better martial arts style movies and television series for decades. I thought the editing was badly done. It looks like large bits of the movie were left on the cutting room floor.

The biggest problem is trying to take a complex story like this one and squeeze everything into a two hour block of time. Often story elements that are necessary to help the movie and the characters make sense are left out, and that’s what’s happened here. The characters are never given enough time to really develop well enough that I wanted to care about them. And I don’t like Simu Liu, to be honest. I’ve seen him in other things, including the Canadian series Kim’s Convenience where he was, frankly, more of a distraction and even an annoyance than a necessary part of the show. In the Ten Rings he just never seems, oh, comfortable in the role? It’s like he’s trying way, way too hard to adapt to a role he just isn’t suited for.

Basically if you want to see how a movie like this should be done, go find the Wu Assassins on Netflix.

I did, however, like the Eternals. I thought that was well done, despite the bad reviews it got.

But then we come to Thor: Love and Thunder. And oh dear lord… There is a phrase in the entertainment industry, jumping the shark, which refers to the writers and producers having totally run out of ideas for a series and introducing ever increasingly bizarre elements to the story to try to keep viewers interested. What they’ve done to Thor is even worse than jumping the shark. They brought in the kids. Children. They’ve Disneyfied the thing.

I knew the Thor series was eventually going to end up being wrecked, the whole story line I mean. Once you take a story arc that is about love and loss, death, mass murder and literally genocide, and try to make a comedy out of it, you are heading down a dark, dark path from which there is no return. And ultimately you end up with TLT. They’ve – they’ve Disneyfied it, heaven help us. They’ve completely run out of ideas and now are trying to turn it into a kiddie show.

They took the tragic story of Jane Foster and turned it into a five minute soap opera. They shoveled a bunch of kids into the story for “reasons”. And end up with Thor’s new partner becoming, drum roll please, an eight or nine year old girl. Yes, apparently Thor’s new partner in running around the universe slaying monsters, killing off bad guys, enduring horrible tortures, watching mass murder and genocide, is going to be a tiny little girl wielding a magic weapon? Seriously?

Some parts of the movie aren’t bad. The special effects are decent, there’s some snappy dialog. This could have been a fairly decent movie. But a lot of the jokes fall flat to the floor and lay there twitching waiting for someone to put them out of their misery. The only good part about the movie was the screaming goats. Maybe Marvel could spin off the screaming goats into their own series of movies?

Fall

It’s definitely fall up here in Wisconsin. Temperatures last night were down in the 30s. The days are much shorter. Most of the birds have fled for warmer climates. We cleaned all the vegetable gardens out the other day. Good thing, too, because MrsGF and I are sick of dealing with the stuff. Our pantry has enough canned beets and various types of tomato sauces and pickles to last us probably two years. The freezer is full to overflowing with more tomatoes, peppers, wax beans, green beans and beets.

There are still some wild flowering plants out there when I bundle up and head out on the bike, but not many. It’s still pretty green out there but I can see that this isn’t going to last long. The grasses and other plants in the more wild areas around here are starting to dry up and turn brown, and a lot of trees are starting to turn color.

We had to turn the heat on in the house days ago already as daytime temperatures struggled to hit 50 degrees even with the sun out.

I like autumn, even though it means I have to bundle up to get out on the bike and I usually get home with cold feet and even colder hands. Getting out in the crisp, autumn air is worth it. After the heat and humidity of the summer it feels refreshing, cleaner, out there.

Of course winter will be here before long, but that’s all part of the cycle of life.

Stuff

With the number of outdoor chores and projects dwindling it means it’s just about time to open up the wood shop again. I haven’t even been in there except to grab a tool since spring. I still need to finish taking down the old suspended ceiling, replacing the old fluorescent ceiling lights with LED lights and doing a general cleanup before getting started with wood projects again.

I need to get my vertical antenna down and checked over before the snow flies. It got smacked by a tree limb in the spring and I think there’s a loose connection up there somewhere. I’ve been using the dipole antenna all summer, but I would like to get that vertical working properly again as well because the dipole is probably going to have to be replaced or at least taken down and have some repairs done as well in the near future.

And speaking of doing stuff, I need to shut this down for this time and actually go get some work done!

Fall Catch Up

Technically it is still summer, but it’s the middle of September and it is sure starting to look and feel like autumn out there. I have to wear a jacket when I go out on the bike in the morning. Early morning temperatures are generally down in the mid-50s. Not bad, really, but chilly enough that it makes things a bit shivery without a bit of extra clothing. But then, this being Wisconsin, the next day we have to turn on the air conditioning by mid afternoon. When I was still working at the school district there were a lot of days when we had to run the aircon during the day and then fire up the boilers at night.

The growing season is over for some things here. We took out the butternut squash plants two days ago. Well, what was left of them. They’d been dying back for a couple of weeks now as they came to the natural end of their lives. But they left behind a massive amount of squash.

This is the second year we’ve had squash in the corner garden by the air conditioner, and the second year we’ve had a bumper crop. This area is amazingly prolific no matter what we plant in there, as long as we water it regularly. The corner faces south-west, so it gets direct sun almost every day. Plus the white siding of the house helps to concentrate the light and keep the temperature in that corner more moderated. We’ve also dumped a heck of a lot of compost in there as well over the years. We put parsley along the edge, a line of wax beans just inside there, and squash in the middle, and everything grew like crazy. We have enough beans to last us more than a year, and the squash…

A whole wheelbarrow full of the things. These will keep just fine for a while, at least until we have time to process them and get them into the freezer.

We pulled out the cucumber plants as well. We only put in two this year, but those were ridiculously prolific as well and we just didn’t know what to do with the cukes any more. We have enough pickles of various types on the shelves in the basement to last us probably two years.

We still have some beets and carrots left in the ground that need to get harvested and processed. Carrots will get blanched and frozen. The beets that ar eleft are really too small to do much with and will probably get eaten right away. Most of those are already either canned or in the freezer.

Some things are still going strong, though. My jalapeno plants were disappointing all summer long. i didn’t get more than a dozen fruits off them during the summer. But now the dopey things have decided to start to go crazy and they’re covered with flowers. Why? I have no idea.

We still have lots of flowers in bloom around here and some of them are pretty spectacular.

Let’s see, what else…

If you’ve been following this blog you know the big ash tree in the backyard came down earlier this summer. That area is finally cleaned out. I found a local fellow in Forest Junction who built his own sawmill and could use the massive log that was left. I didn’t get paid anything for it. Didn’t want to. I just wanted to see that log get used for something useful rather than end up rotting in an old gravel pit which is where it would have ended up. Depending on the quality of the wood once he starts sawing it, it could end up as molding and trim for local houses being built just a few blocks from here. Wouldn’t that be neat?

MrsGF and I still haven’t decided what to do with the area that the removal of the tree opened up. It was way too shady back there to grow much of anything. Now that the area is opened up to full sun we have a lot of options. We kept the stump intact and we’re thinking of doing something interesting with that. Ideas range from using it as the base for a garden bench to using it as a pedestal for a piece of artwork.

We should have new garage doors going in fairly soon. The existing doors, hardware and openers are over 30 years old and definitely showing their age. But as is all too common these days, supply chain issues are a bottleneck. The installer said we’re looking at a 2 to 6 week wait for all of the parts to come in.

That doesn’t really bother us, though. MrsGF and I are from a generation where we often had to wait for things. We didn’t grow up in this instant gratification society that seems to have developed over the years. To us the fact that you can order something online and have it arrive at your door within 48 hours or even less still seems a bit startling.

Speaking of businesses, I’ve had three different job offers in the last week alone, ranging from some recruiter who wanted me to do COBOL programming (I haven’t used COBOL since, oh, 1985 I think and I don’t remember how to do even the basics) to a local fellow who is a professional carpet cleaner who would have paid me embarrassingly large amounts of money for even a few hours of work per week, set my own schedule, work however long I wanted, etc. That’s how desperate people are for workers around here. Last night we went to a restaurant in the Fox Valley for our son’s birthday and they’re so short handed they don’t have wait staff at all any more. They’re somehow keeping open by just manning the kitchen and customers ordering at a counter, getting their own drinks, etc. We certainly didn’t have to worry about catching covid. We were the only people in the place.

Sidenote: One of Wisconsin’s more well known village idiots (cough, sorry, typo there) politicians came up with the perfect plan to solve the labor shortage. He wants to kill Social security dead and force all those lazy old people to go back to work. Of course now that he’s facing an election he has a good chance of losing he denies he said any such thing, but he did. And some of the things he’s said recently indicate he still thinks that way.

Enough of that, though. What else… Oh, I want to talk about drones in the near future. I got a new one which is pretty darned nice. I want to talk about bicycling in general. A lot of communities claim that they are “bike friendly” and they claim they would dearly love to shift people out of cars and onto bicycles. But they sure as hell don’t make it easy for people to do that. Now that the growing season is winding down I should have some time to start fiddling around in the wood shop again. I haven’t even been in there in the last few months. That all got shut down because of how busy we get during the spring and summer. I was in the process of taking down the ceiling in there to do some major remodeling and that’s been on hold way too long.

And that’s about it for now.

E-scooters. Saving Cities or an Abomination? Oh no, GF is off on a rant again.

I’m bored and waiting for the cable guy to come and fix my internet, so I’m going to complain talk about e-scooters for a while.

Oh, and I should warn you right up front that there will be sarcasm.

So let’s look at the abomination that is the e-scooter. Yes, I said abomination because that is what a of a lot of people think of them in the cities that they have infested. At least the ones who have had to jump for their lives off a sidewalk to avoid being run down by one of the things.

Some people are looking at the problem of “the last mile”. This refers to one of the problems with public transportation. Let me explain.

In the dreams of the more progressive city planners out there, personal transportation should work something like this: First you’ll take a high speed train (which doesn’t actually exist) to the city to a central depot (which doesn’t exist) where you will get on a subway or a light rail system (which doesn’t exist in the vast majority of cities in the US) to another depot somewhere in the city (which doesn’t exist) where you will get on a pleasant, clean bus (which doesn’t exist) that totally isn’t covered with the vomit, blood, feces, urine and body parts of the people who were on it the night before, that will take you to a bus stop (which doesn’t exist) near your final destination which is within easy walking distance (it isn’t).

Sidenote: The more practical of you out there will have several rather serious objections to these dreams of how personal transportation should work, even if you ignore the fact that most, if not all, of the infrastructure needed for all of this doesn’t actually exist, its cost to build would be mind boggling, that it would take decades to build, and that there would be thousands of lawsuits trying to stop it before anyone even turned over the first shovel full of dirt. The problem is, well, it doesn’t seem that anyone has actually bothered to take into consideration the reason why people want to go to town. All these city planners seem to think that I’m going to get on a train, go to, oh, Green Bay, take a bus around town, get back on a train and then immediately turn around and go home again. No. The only reason I want to go to town is to go to the shops and get out again as fast as possible. I want to get groceries, stop at Fleet Farm to get a new tire for my lawnmower, buy a cat tower that my cat will never actually use, and then scurry back to the house to spend two days recovering from the trip. The problem with these public transportation systems is what the hell do I do with all my stuff? There is no way in hell I am going to be able to lug all of that stuff along with me on a bus or commuter train or any of the methods of transportation they want to push me onto.

That last bit, the distance between where your bus drops you off and your final destination, is sometimes known as the ‘last mile’. And that last mile really often is a mile or more. In some cases a lot more. So that last mile is a real problem because people look at this whole plan and say wait a minute, why the hell should I go through all of that nonsense when I still have to walk a half hour to get to my destination? I’ll just skip all of that crap and take my car and be done with it.

And the entrepreneurs out there are dealing with the lack of infrastructure by simply totally ignoring all of it and concentrating instead on the last mile because that’s where they figure they can make huge gobs of money at very little expense. So a bunch of them sat around brainstorming one night and what they came up with was a… Wait for it… A scooter. A rental scooter.

A rental scooter? What? Seriously? A fricken scooter? Yeah, a fricken rental scooter. But wait! It’s special! It’s an e-scooter! (Waits for hushed ooos and aahs to die down) It’s like all “green” and stuff because they stuck an “e” in front of the word scooter. It’ll work. Seriously. Really. Trust me…

Take basically what is little more than an upscale version of the kid’s toy that seems to have been designed specifically to make sure emergency room doctors are fully employed, strap a motor and battery to it so it can zip along at 20+ mph, and there you go. It ain’t exactly rocket science. My kid literally made one of these back in the 1990s out of parts from an old office copying machine. Seriously. Granted it didn’t work very well but it worked. Sort of.

I have to admit that on the surface at least it doesn’t seem to be an absolutely horrible idea. Maybe? The idea is that they leave these things in appropriate places around the city. The user uses an app to unlock and pay for using the scooter. The user gets to their destination and then just leaves it there where, hopefully, someone leaving that destination will need a ride and then go through the same process to take the scooter elsewhere. Then at the end of the day someone with a truck will run around town, find all of the scooters, throw them into the back of the truck, take them to a central warehouse somewhere to recharge them, and then get them back on the streets before the morning rush starts.

Only it hasn’t actually worked all that well. First of all some of the companies never bothered to tell the cities they were moving into what they were doing. The city went to bed one night, got up in the morning, started to watch the morning news while having a nice cup of coffee, and immediately was deluged with complaints from people wondering what the hell was going on with all of these stupid scooters laying all over and people riding them at 20 mph down the sidewalks and running over small children, pets, and less than agile pedestrians, and the city says what? Wait a minute, what scooters?

Some of our more enterprising citizens went “Ooo, free scooters!” and snapped them up, stripped them of every resellable part they could, and tossed the remains off the nearest bridge into the river. Or they just tossed them off the nearest bridge without stripping them of parts because, well, hey, this is Wisconsin. It’s boring up here. We have to make our own entertainment. And I’ve ridden one of these things and after going half a block on the stupid thing I wanted to throw it off a bridge myself.

Building owners found their entrances so cluttered with the damned things that people couldn’t get into the shops or offices, and that even the sidewalks were blocked by abandoned scooters. Poor pedestrians out walking their little doggies or trying to walk down to the shops to get a coffee had to quickly learn the fine art of running for their lives or be run down by some loonie on a scooter zipping between walkers at about a zillion miles per hour. And if you think I am exaggerating this, I assure you I am not. This is exactly what happened when these things hit the streets. I have a lot of friends who live in Milwaukee and this is what happened down there when these things were dumped on the city almost literally without warning.

I won’t go through all of the nonsense that took place in Milwaukee when the e-scooters moved it. Let’s just say that it was real interesting. After a lot of threats of lawsuits and other ridiculousness they are apparently now back on the streets, but only in certain zones and with restrictions on how many can be in each zone. And, Milwaukee being Milwaukee, they want their cut of the action, too. Companies are apparently going to have to pay the city $50 per scooter, twenty-five cents per trip, and if a city employee has to touch one of the things to move it out of the way, the scooter company will have to pay a $25 fee. Considering none of these scooter companies seems to actually be making any money in the first place, yeah, that’s going to work real well.

Sidenote: The comment above may make it sound like the city of Milwaukee is desperate for money. That’s because it is. They’ve managed to so thoroughly screw up the city’s employee pension plan that within a few years pretty much most of the entire city budget is going to have to go to paying off the pension system.

Milwaukee and a lot of other cities wanted to ban the things completely. But there were threats of lawsuits, warnings that the city wouldn’t look ‘environmentally friendly’ if they tried to ban them, etc. So the city caved in and permitted them, but it did ban them from using sidewalks ( a ban which almost everyone ignores, by the way). This meant that e-scooters now had to ride on the streets. Streets which look like this:

Now do I really have to tell you that shoving what is basically a kiddie toy with a motor on it out onto streets that look like this is not a good idea? Streets and roads here in Wisconsin are utterly horrible for the most part. Wisconsin roads and streets cause about $650 damage to the average car driver every year. And now you want to push scooters onto those same streets? Scooters have tiny, tiny wheels, no suspension, not very good brakes, and are unstable to begin with. And now you’re going to dump them onto streets full of cracks, potholes, expansion joints, rocks, mufflers that fell off of cars, etc? Oh, and do I need to mention thousands of car drivers who are already pissed off by, well, everything, I guess judging from the way they drive?

And speaking of safety, according to a study published in the journal of American emergency room doctors, e-scooters have an injury per mile rate that is two hundred times higher than any other vehicle. Two hundred times.

Then let’s talk about money. These scooter companies have literally burned through billions of dollars of venture capital since this nonsense began. They might as well have just taken all of the money, put it in a big pile and burned it because to the best of my knowledge none of them has actually managed to make a profit. Several have gone bankrupt. Others are “right sizing”, pulling out of markets where they haven’t been able to bribe (cough cough, typo there, sorry) convince city officials that they are a “good thing” and should be allowed to operate virtually without regulation. Bird’s stock value was, when it first went public, selling for about $21 a share. The last time I looked back in June, it was hovering down round $0.50 per share. Yeah, half a buck a share, and the stock exchange was threatening to delist them. I hope you didn’t invest your kid’s college fund in the e-scooter business.

And people are still pumping tens of millions of dollars into these companies in the hopes that somehow, some way, they can make a buck off this whole scheme.

Now don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against electric vehicles. I love electric vehicles. I have an e-bike that I’ve put 500 miles on in less than 2 months. If Ford ever gets their act together and actually produces the electric version of the F-150 in sufficient quantities that I could actually buy one without being on a two year waiting list, you’d probably see one of those sitting in my garage as well. But these stupid scooters? No thanks.

Ebikes and a Sort of Review of the Specialized Vado

I’ve had the Specialized Vado ebike for about three weeks now and I love the thing. By the time I get around to finishing this article and posting it I’ll have around 300 miles on it. But I suppose before I get started I should define the term ebike because it’s gotten a bit confusing since there are actually two types of bikes that now fall under the term. One is an actual ebike and the other, if one wishes to be pedantic about it, isn’t.

The first type has a motor and battery but it is still an actual, real bicycle that you have to pedal to make it move. It will not move on its own. This type of ebike uses the motor system to to provide assistance to the rider. It does some of the work for you. How much work the motor does is generally adjustable. I can switch mine from giving no support at all, all the way up to nearly 100% where the motor does almost all the work while I pedal along.

The second type isn’t really what I would call a bicycle. It looks like a bicycle, probably has usable pedals, but it is really more of an electric moped or small motorcycle. With these bikes the motor can be used to do all of the work. You don’t have to pedal at all. There is a throttle on the handlebars to allow you to control the speed. All you have to do is just ride.

There are some issues with this second type. There are potential legal issues for one thing. In a lot of jurisdictions these types of bikes aren’t technically bicycles, they probably should be classified as mopeds or even small motorcycles, and if one were to be strict about it, in those jurisdictions they should be registered and licensed as such and the riders required to have at least a driver’s license and perhaps even a motorcycle license, and they should be insured as such. But fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your point of view) no one seems to be paying much attention to that.

They also, legally speaking, should be required to meet the same equipment and safety requirements as mopeds or small motorcycles. They should have turn signals, proper brakes, headlight, tail light, brake light, properly rated tires and wheels, etc. And because a lot of these are basically just bicycles that someone strapped a motor and battery to, a lot of them have none of those things.

(Sidenote: A word about speed. Most people toodle along at about 5 – 10 mph on a bicycle. Someone who is in relatively good physical shape can cruise along considerably faster than that. With my 24 speed (no motor) a comfortable speed for me on level ground on a nice paved road is about 10 according to my gps thingie, and if I work really, really hard I can hit 19 mph on a level road for short periods of time. I used to work for a bicycle race and those guys cruise along at 24 to 30 mph all day long, and they can max out at about 45 mph. I usually average about 8-10 mph on the bike though because I’m in no real hurry to get anywhere. I’m just out there to enjoy being outside. With the ebike I find myself now cruising easily at about 13 – 15 mph, even going up hills. If I kick up the boost I can run at 20 mph all day long and I max out at around 28 mph.)

Prices on ebikes of both types are all over the place. They range from a low of about $700 up to, well, up to whatever your bank account can withstand. There is a Porsche branded ebike out that that supposedly sells for $10,000.

Sidenote: Yes, Porsche, the maker of supercars and sports cars with eye watering prices, is in the ebike business. They’ve been selling a Porsche branded ebike for a few years now, and have been investing in ebike companies for some time. They’re staring up two new companies specifically to develop, build and sell their own in-house created ebikes. Why would a company known for it’s overpriced, gas sucking, tire squealing sports cars that no one except influencers and trust fund kiddies can afford be getting into the ebike business? Money, of course. Ebikes make a lot of sense in Europe. The population density is high, towns are generally very close together, commutes to work or to do shopping are generally much shorter than they are in the US, traffic in cities is generally horrific with the average speeds for motor vehicles down to just a few miles per hour because of congestion. In most European cities you can get around a hell of a lot faster on a bike than you can in a car. So for a lot of people in the EU ebikes make a lot of sense. Porsche figures it can take a $4,000 ebike, slap some Porsche stickers on it and sell it for $10,000 to the same status hungry influencers and pretend millionaires it sells its cars to.

Now if you go online and start looking around at ebikes you’ll notice a couple of things. First, if you’re at all familiar with the bicycle market you’ll know that if you want to buy a good non-electric bicycle it’ll cost you around $600 and for anything really good the prices go up fast. So how can these companies be selling ebikes for the same price? It makes one wonder about the quality of those inexpensive models.

The second thing you’ll notice is that when it comes to a lot of those cheap ebikes, no matter what the brand name may be, they all look suspiciously alike. That’s because they are. Very few of the companies selling ebikes at the low end of the market actually manufacture them themselves. They all buy the bikes from the same factories and the only differences between them are a few plastic stick on bits and the company logos.

But I wanted to talk about the Vado and let myself get distracted, so let’s get on with this sort of review. I want to talk about ebikes and transportation but I’ll do that in a separate article.

Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first before I move on to the goodies.

First, it’s heavy and it’s big. It won’t fit into the back of my Buick even with the rear seats folded down. I had to use MrsGF’s Rav4 which has a larger cargo area to pick it up. And it is definitely no light weight. It scales in at around 60 lbs. It definitely is not some kind of sleek road racer. But it has to be big and heavy because it’s designed to not just carry a person around, but also a big battery, a motor, all the electronics, me, and supposedly 50 pounds of cargo as well. And unless you have the motor turned off and you’re using it as a regular pedal bike you won’t even notice the weight.

Second, it’s not exactly cheap. When all was said and done, with taxes and other stuff tacked on, that Vado up there in that photo set me back close to $4,000. That is a hell of a lot of money for a bike, even an ebike. In my opinion the Vado was well worth the money, but that’s me. I put a lot of miles on a bike.

Third, the seat it came with was horrible. It was one of the most uncomfortable saddles I’ve ever had the misfortune to sit on. First thing I did when I got it home was replace the seat with the one from my old 24 speed bike.

Fourth, it comes with pretty much nothing but the bike itself. While the bike is reasonably well equipped and includes a luggage rack on the back, it comes with nothing else. The bag, water bottle bracket and rear view mirror were add ons I put on myself. You’d think they could at least include a water bottle holder on a four grand bike, but that’s the way it goes I guess.

Let’s get on with the good stuff.

The brakes are frankly amazing. No caliper brakes that squeeze on the rim of your wheels. This thing has actual hydraulic disc brakes like you get in a car. Yes, hydraulic, not cable actuated. I’ve never had a bike that stopped this well before. Braking is smooth, predictable, with no unexpected grabbing or fading after repeated stops.

The Vado comes with a 10 speed derailleur gear changer. Anyone who has had a bike with a derailleur system will be familiar with this. It’s the one part of the bike that I think could be a weak point. When I first got the bike it would miss shifts and under hard pedalling it would jump a cog on the gears once in a while. I figured I was going to have to take it back to the dealer and have them take a look at it, but after I’d ridden it for about fifty miles or so the gear changes became smoother and it stopped jumping cogs on the gears. So perhaps it just needed a break in period to work smoothly? I still think this could be a weak point, however. It’s a 10 speed and I think that’s too many gears for a derailleur to handle without some issues. But it’s working fine now so we’ll see.

It comes standard with a very bright LED headlight and a tail light that wraps around the cargo carrier on the back. The tail light isn’t super bright but it will hopefully help make me more visible to car and truck drivers when I’m on the road.

Also note the fenders. I like fenders on a bike. I often ride on gravel trails, run through mud patches, ride right after rains when the roads are wet, etc. Not having fenders on my old bike meant I’d come home with a streak of mud up my back and splatters all over my legs. These fenders work quite well. They are very thin and very flexible but stiff enough to work well.

Front suspension is fantastic. The front forks seems to absorb bumps, railroad tracks and potholes very well. Some people don’t like front suspensions like this for various reasons. I think those people are, frankly, stupid. With the multiple railroad track crossings, gravel trails, potholes, washboard roads, etc. around here, some kind of decent suspension is a requirement around here.

The battery is removable and completely tucked away inside the frame of the bike. It’s relatively easy to get out. Removing it requires using a key in a lock located alongside of the charging socket. Just for the heck of it I looked up what a new battery would cost, thinking that it might not be a bad idea to have a spare. So go ahead, guess what that battery costs. Just take a wild guess.

Try $1,200. Seriously. Twelve hundred bucks for a replacement battery. I find it a bit difficult to believe that the battery alone costs more than a quarter of the value of the bike, but, well, that’s the way it goes I guess.

That’s the charging port in the photo up there, and it is one of the most unnecessarily frustrating things I’ve ever had to fiddle with. It has a kind of magnetic holding system which is neat, but trying to get the blasted plug actually inserted into that socket is infuriating sometimes. It won’t just slide into place and latch on. I’ve spent minutes fiddling with the damned plug, turning it, twisting it, trying to get it to lock in place. And from what I’ve read online I’m not the only one who has problems with the damned thing. There’s no excuse for this on a bike this expensive. Yo, Specialized! Fix the damned plug!

This is an ebike so you need some kind of display and control system. The dashboard, if you want to call it that, defaults to the view you see in the picture above. There are controls on the handlebars that let you flip through various screens that display various bits of information that I suspect I’ll never need to know and will never actually care about, but it’s there if you need it. The left handgrip has a push button control that lets you cycle through various information screens, and a + and – button that cycles through four different levels of ‘boost’, Eco, Sport, Turbo and Off, the latter turns the motor off completely.

There is an app (because of course there is because everything has to have an app on your phone these days whether you want one or not) that does many things, none of which I care about except for the ability to tailor the amount of boost you get from the motor. Eco setting has the motor take up about 30% of the work, Sport is 50% and Turbo is 100%. Basically in Turbo all you’re doing is moving your legs up and down, the motor does almost all of the work. And, of course, Off, which switches the motor off entirely and the only thing powering the bike is your legs. I’m told that I can change the level of boost the motor gives to almost anything I want but the defaults work good for me and probably will for most people.

Yes, you can use this as a normal human powered bike, and it works rather well that way. Despite the bike’s weight it works quite nicely as a normal bicycle.

You’ll have noticed that Garmin thingie on the handlebars up there next to the bike’s control buttons. That’s why I don’t care about the app the bike comes with. That’s a Garmin GPS/fitness tracker/mapping system and displays text messages, emails and other goodies. And, in a feature I hope I never need, will supposedly send an email to my wife if I crash that says something like “Hey, your idiot husband wiped out and he’s laying in a ditch somewhere at these coordinates so you better go sweep him up before you get fined for littering.”

But back to the Vado. I’ve put 300 miles on it now in the three or four weeks I’ve had it and so far I love the thing. It rides well, stops well, handles well. The motor works seamlessly with the bike. The electronics make its presence entirely unobtrusive. The only way i can tell it’s even working is because I can feel that I’m using less effort pedaling up hills or when starting out from a dead stop, which is exactly how it’s supposed to work. It’s very well made. The frame is extremely robust, the welds are just about perfect.

Normally I drive in Eco mode which is the least amount of boost, which is more than enough for me to deal with things like long uphill climbs. If I’m out on a long ride in hot weather and I’m getting tired out I might kick the boost level up to Sport. I’ve tried it in Turbo mode several times. I still have to pedal, but in that mode I’m not doing any work at all, just moving my legs up and down.

Range is always something one needs to be concerned with when it comes to electric vehicles. The manual says I can expect about 40 miles range under normal usage, but I suspect in real life it would be much, much more than that. I went out for a 20 mile ride one day, running mostly in Eco mode, and when I got back home I still had 70% battery life left according to the monitor.

I really, really like the Vado so far. It meets or exceeds all of my expectations. If I didn’t live in a rural area where it’s at least 15 miles to get anywhere I need to go I could easily see using it as my primary means of transportation when the weather was reasonably nice.

The only thing I hate about it is that damned charging port. It’s keyed, so it will only fit into the socket when you have the plug oriented at exactly the right angle. But the port is recessed into the frame, and down near the bottom of the frame, so you can’t actually see how you’re supposed to orient the plug unless you literally get down on your hands and knees. I thought maybe it was just me. I’m not exactly the most graceful person in the world, after all. But it isn’t just me. I’ve read other reviews of the Vado that expressed similar frustrations with the charging plug, so this is a common problem. And there is absolutely no excuse for this. Not on a bike that costs this much money.

To wrap this up, overall I really, really like the Vado. As I said earlier I have over 300 miles on it now and it has worked pretty much flawlessly. It’s great fun to ride, the motor and electronics work beautifully. It’s robustly made and has handled all of the railroad tracks, potholes, expansion joints and other garbage we have to contend with on the roads around here. Brakes are simply excellent. It’s expensive, yes, but I think it’s worth the money if you put as many miles on a bike as I do.

I want to talk about biking, ebikes and transportation in general but I’m not going to do that here. This is already getting on the long side so I’m going to end this right now. 🙂

Spring Means Gardening! Plus Dr Who and more Stuff!

After a brief bout with unusual heat where temperatures pushed into the 90s (Appleton school district actually canceled classes last Friday because of heat) we’re back down to daytime temps in the 60s and low 70s, which is close to what we should be getting. The gardens are coming along nicely. We decided to put off increasing the size of any of the planting beds or making other major decisions until after the trees come down so we can better decide what we want to do out there.

The big decorative bed out towards the back of the yard is doing well. The irises are looking beautiful and so are the other plants that made it through the winter. It doesn’t look like MrsGF’s blueberry made it though, alas. We just haven’t had any luck at all when it comes to blueberries. Either they succumbed to some kind of fungus, even though they were supposed to be resistant to that, or they didn’t survive the winter.

The raised beds are looking very good indeed. Carrots and beets are all up and looking good and the garlic and onions are doing quite well. We put in a lot of onions this year. We use a lot of them, both for eating fresh, as an ingredient in tomato sauces and other recipes, salads, etc. And they just taste better than what you get at the store. Most of the varieties you see at the grocery stores seem to be moving towards types that don’t actually taste like onions any longer. They’ve decided that consumers don’t like tangy, spicey onions and they want varieties that are more mild, lack flavor, and even are sweet. If you like sweet onions, good for you. Everyone has different likes and dislikes. But I want an onion that smells and tastes like an onion. We had one bag of store bought onions come through here where I swear I thought I had Covid because I couldn’t smell them when I was cutting them up. They were so mild you could have eaten one like an apple.

The hostas in front of the house are looking really good this year. They seem to do quite well up in front even though the soil up there is really, really nasty.

And the goofy little Hens and Chicks up there that we scattered around the fence posts are doing pretty good too. They’re now moving all along the area between the cedar fence and sidewalk. They’re fun little things and seem to do good up there.

We have pole beans in this one. They did pretty good last year so we decided to plant them again. Along with more onions and some lettuce that I think we’ll be able to start eating in another week or so.

The corner garden has squash again this year, with parsley planted along the outside edge and, of course Mr. Spiny the cactus back there on the right.

Things are really dry here right now. We had to start watering the gardens yesterday. Our weather patterns here seem to have really changed a lot over the last few years. We’re getting more long periods without rain at unusual times of the year, unusual periods of extreme heat, less snow during the winter. Weather is highly variable, of course, but this seems to be a trend moving towards less predictable weather events.


Dr. Who – I must confess I’m something of a Dr. Who fan. Sort of. Or was, rather. My affection for the Dr. goes way back to the era of rubber monsters, all the “alien” worlds being filmed in the same rock quarry, and the utterly silly fellow with the long scarf and an addiction to jelly babies. Basically it was a kids show with a skimpy budget, often ridiculously silly plots, bad acting and, well, you name it. It was juvenile. It was fun.

But then came along Colin Baker as the Dr and he and the writing just rubbed me the wrong way. Baker came off, IMO, as utterly arrogant and, frankly, an asshole. And his sidekick, Perry, played by Nicola Bryant, quickly became known around the family as “Miss Cleavage” because of the often ridiculously low cut shirts she was dressed in to show off her, well, cleavage, for basically no reason 0ther than trying to “sex it up”, so to speak. I suspect they were trying to push up sagging ratings as high as the outfits pushed up Ms. Bryant’s anatomy.

That was the end of my watching Dr. Who until the reboot when Eccleston popped up as the new doctor and, well, wow. All of a sudden the show had an actual real budget with actual real special effects and actual real plot lines and good acting (mostly) and good writing (sometimes). And it stayed good for quite some time. But then the show started to suffer from what I call The Topper Syndrome. The writers weren’t satisfied with just writing good stories. Every new episode had to top the last one, they had to get bigger and more exciting and cover more and more crazy monsters and conspiracies and have bigger explosions and you just can’t keep that kind of thing up for very long without ‘jumping the shark’, as they say. That phrase means a show has so worn itself out that it has to resort to ever more bizarre and ridiculous stunts and gimmicks in order to try to keep it’s sagging ratings from sinking even further.

Then along came Jodi Whitaker as the first female doctor and I thought that, finally, the show was going to refresh itself, become more interesting, more entertaining, focus on story and plot and… And no, it didn’t. They utterly wasted Ms. Whitaker’s talents by bogging her down in one endlessly dull, and even insulting story after another. A lot of people attributed the flagging ratings and increasing criticism of the show to misogyny on the part of the Who fans, and even to racism and prejudice because the story lines now included persons who experienced physical and mental challenges and dealt with racism. I don’t think that’s true, though. I do think the show went over the top occasionally because it seemed it was going out of its way to be “inclusive”, but I think the real problem was that the writing was just plain not very good and the directing was even worse. As often as not Ms. Whitaker was made to look like some kind of overactive, over excited child hopped up on espresso and sugar instead of a thousand year old Time Lord.

So now we’re about to get a new Dr. Who, Ncuti Gatwa and I am very much looking forward to seeing him in the role. He’s young, just 29, and IMO he’s an excellent actor who I think can bring new energy, new poise and a new interpretation to the role. He’ll be the first black actor to take on the role.

What I find a bit curious is that they’re bringing back the Rose Tyler character, but she is not going to be played by Billie Piper who was the original in the series reboot. Rose Tyler is now going to be played by Yasmin Finney. Exactly how they are going to explain Rose Tyler changing from a young white female into a young black transgender woman is going to be interesting. I’m rather looking forward to that too.

Rumor has it that the “multiverse” is going to be involved. The multiverse has become just one of a long series of deus ex machina plot devices writers turn to when they write themselves into a corner. Dr. Who has already dabbled in that nonsense early on when the Rose Tyler character became too intensely involved with the Dr, so they conveniently trapped her in a different universe that she couldn’t escape from. Well, couldn’t escape from until the writers decided that she could.

One of the issues with the rebooted series is that they constantly introduce story lines that focus on the Dr’s companions, and the companions start to become more popular with fans than the Dr and they can’t have that so they have to get rid of companions or the show isn’t about the Doctor any more. So Rose Tyler ends up trapped in another universe. Amelia and Rory get trapped in the early 20th century for reasons that are never adequately explained and die of old age, Clara outright dies, but then is resurrected again immediately and somehow is still out there, somewhere, running around in a stolen Tardis, still dead but somehow still alive, Donna Noble, they had to get rid of her because she got too popular and somehow absorbed all of the knowledge of the Time Lords, so they erased her memory… But then plot holes big enough to drive a truck through and unsatisfying loose ends (like Clara, and the the Dr’s daughter (technically a sort of clone but that’s what they called her)) are, alas, rather common.

Here’s a lesson for you, if some dude in funny clothes shows up in a Tardis and wants you to go traveling with him, don’t go. It doesn’t end well.

Catch Up: Gardening, Flowers, Hollowing Tool, Logo Designs and Stuff

We’ve been getting rain! The drought finally seems to be over. We’ve received several inches of rain over the last week and will be getting more today. Things were getting bad, and not just for home gardeners like me. We’ve had enough rain now that the plants have completely turned around and things are actually starting to look lush out there. The tomatoes have tripled in size and in full blossom. We even have some baby tomatoes on them already. The squash are growing so fast you can almost see the vines getting longer. We have baby cucumbers developing. The raspberries are probably going to be ripe in a week or so. Wow, it’s amazing what a bit of rain can do.

Baby cucumber

The color on the lilies has been almost breathtaking this year.

The warm, damp weather has really jump started the tomatoes. They look beautiful this year.

The raspberries are so loaded with fruit this year MrsGF had to put posts with string to rest the canes on because the weight of the fruit was bending them in half and snapping off the canes. I’ve never seen that happen before.

Anyway, as you can see the gardens here have been doing very, very well of late. Yes, we were watering everything carefully during the drought and keeping an eye on soil moisture and all of that, but for whatever reason artificial irrigation never seems to give the same results as natural rainfall, at least not for me. Even though I was sure the plants were getting adequate water, once it started raining everything just started going crazy.

Possible Logo

I’m going to (well, maybe) start selling some of my wood stuff. I got an account with Etsy now, but haven’t gotten around to actually putting anything up for sale over there, and I’m thinking of putting up a separate set of pages here to showcase a few things for sale. Don’t worry, none of that will appear here in the blog except for a link to the sales site. I’m not going to spam you or anything like that.

But I needed to come up with a name for this for Etsy, and a logo or something to mark the bowls. Most of my bowls have a 2 1/8 inch mortise (basically a shallow hole) in the bottom. This is how I attach them to the lathe with a four jaw chuck. I like using a mortise rather than a tenon because unlike a protruding tenon which has to be removed, I can leave the mortise in place. That means that if something goes wrong with the finish or something else happens, I can easily reattach the piece to the lathe to rework it or refinish it. And as for the remaining hole, I thought why not use it for a logo? I got these thin, 2″ wooden disks which work really well with the laser engraver, so I came up with a name and logo that looks pretty good when burned into the disk.

One of the experiment logo tests

Then just glue the disk into the mortise on the bottom of the bowl. I’m not sure if this is going to be the final version, but so far I’m fairly satisfied with it.

Hollowing Tool

One of the issues I’ve run into with wood turning is dealing with objects that aren’t actual bowls, but instead are what are generally called “hollow form vessels”, things like, well, this one down below here.

This thing is supposed to be hollow, and it is. Sort of. Kinda. But not much. I ran a 2″ hole into it with a forstner bit and then fiddled around with the tools I had to try to hollow it out, but it’s a damned poor job because trying to reach in there to hollow it out without damaging the small opening and without hurting myself is a pain in the neck, even with special tools. I have tools that claim they are for hollowing out forms like this, and for whatever reason they just don’t work well for me. I see guys on YouTube doing this stuff effortlessly. How the heck do they do that? I’ve tried using their techniques and tools and what I’ve ended up with is dangerous catches, broken bowls, broken tools, and a real mess.

So I spent way more money than I wanted to for this:

This is the “Simple Hollowing System” from Harrison Specialties. Harrison markets a line of lathe tools under the “Simple Woodturning” brand. I have some of their carbide tools and they are very, very good indeed. This system is supposed to make it relatively easy to hollow out even something like the bowl in that photo up there. This version comes with just about everything you need, including the system itself, the tools, cutters and even a laser guide system to prevent you from accidentally cutting through the side of a bowl as it is being hollowed out.

As you can see I haven’t even had a chance to set it up yet because it’s been so busy here, but hopefully I’ll be able to give it a try in the next week or two and I’ll talk about it then. I also want to cover the laser engraver in some detail as well in the future. So keep an eye out for both of those coming up.

Car Stuff

Let’s see, what else… Oh, almost forgot. I sold the Corvette. It was a very, very nice car, it was huge fun, but, well, even I had to admit that it wasn’t exactly practical. Basically it was a vehicle that I could only use about 5 months of the year, was a two seater, had very little cargo space. Oh, and did I mention that new tires for that thing were $500? Each. Yeah, it was over $2,000 to put a set of four tires on it because it ran high tech, high speed, run flat racing tires.

I bought, heaven help me, a Buick. Yeah, a Buick. It’s an Envision Avenir which is, according to Buick, at least, “the highest expression of Buick luxury” available. Here’s a photo swiped from Buick’s website because I’m too lazy to go out to the garage and take a picture of mine at the moment.

And I really, really like it. Well, of course I do or I wouldn’t have bought it. Duh.

The list of options on this thing runs two full pages of small type. Emergency braking systems (which I tested the first day I had it. Neighbor’s dog ran in front of the car when I drove into my driveway and the car stopped itself before I could even get my foot off the gas pedal. Wow), lane divergence warnings and even steering. Apparently if you wander outside your lane on the freeway the thing will actually steer itself back into the center of the lane you’re in. Automatic headlights, automatic cruise control that slows down or speeds up itself to match traffic, a 360 degree camera system along with radar systems to assist with parking. I won’t go into the whole list because it’s a bit ridiculous, really. Bumper to bumper warranty that covers everything, and I mean everything. With the package I got even the interior fabrics are covered. Tears, burns, stains, paint chips… All covered. Sheesh…

This thing is very, very nice. I absolutely love it.

And there’s another reason I went with it. It’s four wheel drive with good ground clearance. The roads here in Wisconsin are utterly horrible and getting worse every day. We have one of the worst maintained highway systems in the country. The roads around here are so bad you’re risking doing serious damage to your car if it doesn’t have enough ground clearance to get through the pot holes, cracks, gravel patches and other garbage we have to contend with. The Buick can deal with that a lot better than the Vette.

Why are our roads so bad? Go talk to our state legislature if you want the answer to that one. They can find billions to pay for building new freeways down around Milwaukee that no one wants, but they can’t find the money to maintain the highways, roads and bridges we already have. Those multi billion dollar freeway expansion projects are done by huge corporations that funnel enormous amounts of money into the campaign funds and PACs of our dear legislators down there in Madison. Meanwhile most road maintenance is done by local governments and small contractors who don’t have any influence at all with the legislature.

Let’s see, what else… I’m hoping to actually go fishing this year. Maybe. Every year I get my Conservation Patron license. That is an all inclusive license offered in Wisconsin that covers just about everything you can legally fish or hunt for in the state. At first glance it seems expensive, but when you consider that it includes almost everything, it is actually cheaper and more convenient than trying to get individual licenses. So I get the license every year and generally end up doing, well, nothing, because I don’t have the time. Spring turkey season came and went this year before I even remembered I had a spring turkey permit. Sigh… I think I went fishing exactly twice last year, and once so far this year.

I don’t deal with leisure time very well, I’m afraid. Heck, I’m retired for pete’s sake. I don’t need to constantly be doing something practical. But every time I start planning to go fishing there’s this little voice in the back of my head that’s saying things like “you know you really should be weeding the gardens, not wasting your time with this”, or “you should be spending your time finishing that jewelry box you started last week not sitting along a river waiting to catch a fish and wasting your time.”

Anyway, that’s it for now…

Farm Catch Up: RIP Ethanol

Photo by Alejandro Barru00f3n on Pexels.com

It’s been a while since I did one of these. It isn’t that I’ve lost interest in what’s going on in the ag industry, it’s just that since I’m not personally involved any more it just hasn’t had the same importance for me. But a lot is going on out there in the farming business, and one thing I want to focus on is ethanol today.

2020 was a bad year for the ethanol industry. This was due to the pandemic, of course, but only partly. A lot of production facilities had to cut back, even temporarily close. Some shut down completely and will probably never be brought back online. Adding to the problems the industry is facing is the fact that they primarily use corn as the base material to make ethanol from, and corn prices have jumped up to $5.50 a bushel and show no signs of going down any time soon. (It’s a bit ironic that an industry that was created, at least partly, as a government mandated program to push up corn prices is now threatened by high corn prices.)

But the real problem with the ethanol industry isn’t the pandemic or corn prices, it’s the fact that the entire ethanol fuel industry is dead and the promoters of this stuff simply refuse to admit it. Like it or not, it seems that the future of transportation is not the internal combustion engine, it is going to be electric motors.

Electric vehicles are no longer a novelty item, they’ve gone mainstream, and consumers are buying them in droves. And it’s easy to see why. There is little to no maintenance. No more oil changes, no more cooling systems to flush and fill with antifreeze, no more transmission fluid to check and change and flush, no more exhaust systems rusting off that need to be replaced regularly. They’re quiet, efficient, with ranges of up to 300 miles depending on the model. Fast charging systems that can recharge a vehicle in a half hour or less are finally starting to turn up in a lot of cities, and will quickly become more common. It seems virtually certain at this point that the vehicle you buy in the near future is almost certainly going to be electric.

It isn’t just me who’s saying this. Several countries have already declared that they will ban sales of cars and light trucks with internal combustion engines within the next 15 to 20 years. California will ban the sale of new gasoline powered cars in 2035, as will the Canadian province of Quebec. Britain will ban the sale of new gasoline and diesel powered cars in 2030. Norway is doing it in 2025. China, of all places, is considering doing something similar.

And now GM, General Motors, has announced that it will only produce zero emissions vehicles by 2035 or 2040. And they aren’t the only car maker considering it. Heck, even the railroad and tractor manufacturers are getting into it. One company already has small utility tractors in the 30 – 40 horsepower range suitable for orchards, landscapers, organic farms and the like, in the $25,000 range. Run times are up to 4+ hours, and if you can’t wait to recharge, you can get a second battery pack and swap the uncharged one out, put the charged on in and keep working while the other battery charges.

The future is clear. The entire ethanol fuel industry is as good as dead.

It isn’t going to go down without a fight. It is spending millions of dollars lobbying politicians to try to keep itself on life support. It is about to embark on a massive lobbying campaign against electric vehicles, claiming they are actually more polluting than internal combustion engines, demanding ever increasing percentages in blending with gasoline, pushing for even more government subsidies and tax breaks… The industry will bluster and threaten and lie and bribe and do everything it can to try to hang on. It isn’t going to work. It’s time to nail the lid on the coffin of ethanol and bury it once and for all.

Instead of trying to continue to prop up a dying industry with ever more government bailouts and mandates, we should be preparing to deal with the repercussions of the industry shrinking and eventually going away entirely. This will cause problems that will ripple through the entire ag industry. Corn prices could potentially plummet. Livestock and dairy will have problems because they have come to depend on brewers grain, what’s left after the ethanol is made, as a relatively low cost protein supplement for cattle. All of this, and more, will happen. And it looks like no one is going to try to deal with this before it turns into a crisis.

Tools Part V: Table saws

There’s no way to get around the fact that table saws are expensive. If you’re buying new, you’re looking at around $500 for a decent contractor style saw, up to several thousand dollars or more for a high end cabinet style saw. Can you buy used? You bet, and you can save a significant amount of money doing so, and even come up with some pretty good deals. But you need to be really, really careful when buying used because it’s easy to end up with, frankly, a piece of junk that may look good but is really completely worn out and will require expensive repairs before it can even be used. But I’m not going to get into used equipment in this, I’m going to stick with new saws.

Of course the first question is do you really need one? These things are big and expensive, so can you get along without one? That’s a question only you can answer, really. I’ll just say this – if you’re doing any kind of semi-serious woodworking, the table saw is pretty much the workhorse of any woodshop. It’s used for cutting boards to length, ripping boards to width, trimming panels, framing cabinet doors, making tenons, dadoes… The list goes on and on. If you think you need one, you probably do.

So let’s say you’ve decided you do need one. Before you max out the credit card, there are a few things you need to think about before you ever buy one. Things that most people don’t seem to think about until it’s too late.

My now 15 year old Jet. Observant readers will note that the blade guard is missing. I took that off because I had the throat plate out so I could take photos of the arbor under the table. Normally you never, ever take off any safety equipment on a saw. Never. Not if you want to keep all of your fingers, that is.

First thing to think about is the amount of space you have. These saws are big. They take up a lot of floor space. That’s my 15 year old Jet saw in that photo up there. It is 3 feet deep and 5 feet wide. So it is physically large. Plus you need enough clear space around it so you can work safely. If you want to rip a 6 foot board, for example, you need at least 6 feet in front of that saw, and 6 feet behind that saw, in order to slide that board through the saw. So you really need a minimum of at least around 14 – 15 feet. Cross cutting isn’t quite so bad. You’re almost never going to try to cross cut a board more than a few feet long.

Now most of us don’t have a lot of space to work in. I certainly don’t. My shop is a spare room down in the basement. It’s a good sized room, but if I didn’t have my big tools on wheeled bases so I can move them around there is no way I could fit everything in that room and still have room to work. Wheeled bases like the one on the left under my saw can be really helpful. But they do have drawbacks. They have to be sturdy enough to handle the weight of the tool, which can be hundreds of pounds. They absolutely must have lockdown levers you can work with your foot like mine do because you do not want that tool moving when you’re using it. So they can help, but you’re almost always going to be better off if you don’t need to add wheels. These tools ideally should be bolted directly to the floor because that makes them safer to use and helps to reduce vibration. But most of us don’t have ideal conditions, so you do what you need to.

Big honking motor.

The second thing you need to be concerned with before you buy a saw or any big piece of electrically powered equipment is your electrical service. Can the electrical service in your home, garage or wherever handle the load that will be placed on it by that saw? Look at the specifications of the motor on my saw in the photo up there. It draws 18 amps. But the average electrical circuit in most houses is only rated to handle 15 amps. Go look in your service panel, the circuit breaker box of your house. Chances are good that all the breakers, except the ones feeding an electric clothes dryer, central air system or electric stove, are going to be 15 amp. So just plugging that saw in and turning it on is going to exceed the rating of the average household electrical circuit. If you try running that saw you’re probably going to be tripping the breaker on a regular basis and in extreme cases even causing the wiring to overheat.

My house was completely rewired from top to bottom when we bought this place and we installed separate service panels specifically to feed the garage and my workshop so they could handle the extra load. I have 20 amp circuits feeding the outlets in the shop, not the normal 15 amp, so it can handle this kind of thing.

So before you buy a table saw or other big power tool, make sure your electrical service can handle the load. If necessary talk to a professional electrician about improving the capacity of your system. If heating up a cup of water in your microwave makes the house lights dim, you really, really need to talk to someone about doing some upgrades before you try to bring in a big power tool. I’m not telling you to rewire your whole house, but having a separate 20 amp circuit run to your work area is something you should consider if your equipment is a power hog like mine.

The third thing you need to be concerned with is just getting the thing home and into your workshop area. These saws are big and heavy. How are you going to get it delivered to your location? How are you even going to get it off the delivery truck? How are you going to get it into your workshop? How are you going to get it assembled? Getting my equipment into my basement workshop was a royal pain in the butt that involved hand carts, in one case a cart used to normally transport big vending machines that I had to rent with a powered stair climber built into it. And that’s not counting the bruises, strained muscles, smashed fingers and considerable amounts of foul language.

Sidenote: 120V versus 240V. If you look at the motor up there, you’ll see it can be rewired to run on 240V instead of 120. A lot of tools in this classification will have motors like that. Some will even require 240 only. Why? I won’t go into the technical details but generally speaking a motor runs more efficiently on 240 and there are advantages to going that route. But do you need to? Probably not. First you almost certainly aren’t going to have a 240V circuit in your house, and having one added is going to cost a significant amount of money. And second, you probably don’t need it anyway. Unless you are running a commercial production shop or something like that, the average woodworker isn’t going to need to jump to 240V tools.

SO let’s get on with this and talk about actual saws. Choosing a saw can be a bit overwhelming because there dozens of different types and brands on the market, each with it’s own advantages and disadvantages.

There are three basic types of table saws; contractor saws, hybrid saws, (which I think is actually a ridiculous and misleading thing to call them) and cabinet saws. To confuse things even more, I’m seeing what are really hybrid saws being marketed as contractor saws, and hybrid saws that look like cabinet style saws. I really think that classification system should be scrapped entirely and we should be using things like the saw’s capacity, but let’s ignore that.

contractor style table saw

Contractor saws are generally smaller, more compact, and often come with folding stands and wheels to make them easier to move around, and you’ll often find them at job sites being used by, well, contractors (duh). Once upon a time contractor style saws were, well, to be brutally honest they were almost all pretty much junk. But wow, have things changed in the last twenty years or so. Oh, the really cheap ones are still pretty much junk. But the better quality contractor saws are now damn near as good as the other types of saws. They’ve become more powerful, much better made and genuinely good. If you look at the major brand names and the higher priced models, well if I didn’t have my Jet I wouldn’t mind having one of these. The only real drawbacks are that they are still a bit less durable because they have to be light weight to be more or less portable. And because they have to be small, they don’t have the capacity of the full sized table saws. But that smaller size and lighter weight can be a genuine advantage for those of you who don’t have a lot of room for a saw. And the smaller capacity can be gotten around by building your own stand with infeed and outfeed extensions, side wings, etc.

Makita, DeWalt, Delta and a few other manufacturers make some pretty darn nice contractor style portable saws. They’re definitely worth looking at, especially if you have a tight budget. But as with any of this equipment, research, research, research! Get online and read reviews, evaluations, get on YouTube and look at the videos. Make notes about things you like and dislike. After all, even these “cheap” saws are going to set you back around $400 – $500 or more for a really good one.

Cabinet style saw. Generally you pay through the nose for this style saw and, frankly, for 95% of us the extra cost just isn’t worth it.

I’m going to do something I probably shouldn’t and toss the whole classification of cabinet saws out the door and forget about ’em. Why? Because cabinet saws are big, heavy, and securely bolted to a concrete floor once they’re put in place. They take up a lot of room. They often require 240V power. They generally require a fixed and high power dust collection system. And they’re expensive. You can expect to drop at least $2,500 or much, much more on a decent quality cabinet saw. And I think that’s utterly ridiculous because that saw isn’t going to work any better for the average woodworker than a $1,000 saw will.

And let’s just junk that whole “hybrid” classification too while we’re at it because it’s just silly and I have no idea why people started using that term anyway. And no one seems to actually adhere to the mostly nonexistent standards of that classification system anyway.

Note the wheels used to raise/lower the blade and change the angle on my saw. On this saw they’re separate, but on some there is only a single wheel with a lever that switches between angle adjustment or height adjustment. Which do you want? Doesn’t matter in the slightest as long as it works.

No matter what you call ’em, this style saw is a full sized table saw with a pretty hefty motor, usually 120V but often the motors can be rewired for 240 if you want, good sized tables that will handle just about any normal sawing job you need to do. And generally it has an open frame holding it up like my Jet up there in that photo and not a fully enclosed cabinet base, although as I noted, some are now coming with enclosed cabinets. It’s going to have a 10″ saw blade, a tilting arbor, hand wheels on the front and/or side to raise and lower the blade and to change the angle of the blade, a pretty good quality rip fence, a miter gauge that is most likely a piece of junk and should be replaced with one that is actually accurate and safe, and, of course, safety gear designed to keep you from cutting off bits of your body while using the saw, like anti-kickback devices, a riving knife, shield over the blade, etc, and a flat (hopefully) machined heavy steel or cast iron table with side wings to support larger pieces of wood.

Speaking of safety, I’m going to be talking about SawStop saws at the end of this just to give you a heads up

And no matter which brand you look at, they are all basically pretty much the same. I’m sure DeWalt, Jet, Delta, and the other major brands would argue with that, but when it comes right down to it they are. They’re all going to have similar features, have similar build quality, similar capacity, similar size, weight, everything. Personally I have a lot of Jet equipment, and I like it a lot, but I’m not going to tell you to run out and buy Jet because Jet’s saws aren’t going to be any better or worse than those being sold by Delta or Shop Fox or the other brands. And they’re all going to cost about the same as well, with no more than a couple of hundred bucks differences in price between saws with similar specifications.

So I’m not going to recommend a specific brand or even a specific model. Instead I’m going to talk about what you need to look for, and the things you may need to add or replace once you do buy it.

Stuff you should look for

The table should be nice and flat, well machined, and smooth so wood will slide easily over it. If it has table extensions as my saw does (those white plates on either side of the plain metal table) they should be absolutely flush with the surface of the main table

When the angle of the saw blade is set to 0, the table should be at exactly a 90 degree angle to the table. This is easy to check. Just raise up the saw blade and put a square on the table and butt it up to the blade. If it isn’t you should be able to do some fiddling to get it to that point. Hopefully you won’t have to.

The hole in the table the saw blade comes through is called the throat, and the removable plate that fits around the blade is the throat plate. It should be perfectly flush with the surface of the table, and there should be some way to adjust it to make sure it is flush. If you look at mine, you’ll see the throat plate has leveling screws recessed into the plate itself to allow it to be adjusted. If it isn’t perfectly flush with the table you can have the wood catching as you slide it through the saw and that can be dangerous.

The arbor. It may look simple but there is actually a lot of engineering in that design and if anything in there is off, it’s going to cause you potentially serious problems, ranging from the blade wobbling to excess vibrations.

The arbor is the shaft that the blade itself is bolted to which, in turn, is mounted on an assembly that permits the arbor and blade to be raised and lowered and tilted. The arbor should look and feel sturdy. There should be absolutely zero play when you try to move it, especially not in the bearings nor in the lifting and tilting mechanisms. Reach in there and grab the saw blade (carefully) and try wiggling it back and forth. The saw blade may flex, but ignore that. If the arbor, the bearings, the shafts, anything under there wiggles, moves, shifts position, makes clicking noises, anything that doesn’t seem quite right, avoid that saw like the plague. If any of that equipment down there isn’t absolutely perfect, you’ll never get that saw to work right.

The threads on the shaft should look relatively, oh, robust, shall we say? The pulley on which the drive belt rides should be perfectly square to the shaft itself. If it isn’t it is going to cause vibration problems.

Oh, and how easy is it to get at that arbor? You’re going to have to change that blade sooner or later. You may also want to swap the blade out for specialty blades as well. So you want to be able to have relatively easy access to the arbor to replace the blades.

Then there is the safety equipment. All saws will come with at least the minimum, which is some kind of splitter or riving knife to keep the wood from pinching on the blade, anti-kickback devices of some kind, and a shield over the blade.

You would think that the most dangerous thing about a saw is that spinning blade, and it is indeed very dangerous, but what can be even more dangerous is what is known as kickback. When the fibers in wood are cut, this can, oh, disturb the balance of forces in the piece of wood, so to speak. Internal stresses that were balanced before, become unbalanced when the fibers are cut, causing the wood to move, and squeeze around the saw blade, pinching against it. This can cause the wood to be launched at high speed directly back at the person using the saw. This isn’t just painful, it can literally be lethal. Some years ago a guy at a factory in Fond du Lac got killed when a piece of wood kicked back on the table saw he was using. So when I tell you that you never, ever take the safety gear off your saw, I mean you never, ever take the safety gear off your saw.

If you look at that photo up there you’ll see what looks like a wing with teeth just to the left of the throat plate. That’s an anti kickback pawl. There are two, one on each side. I would much rather have a riving knife, but that wasn’t generally available when I bought this saw. Riving knives are now considered to be one of the best ways to avoid kickback, and if you can get that on the saw you’re looking at, do it.

RIp fences on modern saws are generally pretty good, certainly more than adequate for anything you or I might be doing.

The rip fence: Once upon a time, when you bought a table saw generally the first thing you did was throw away the rip fence it came with and bought a good one. Seriously, they were often that bad. Fortunately those days are long gone, and the rip fences on modern saws, at least the better saws, are generally pretty good, even outstanding, and possibly nearly as good as the aftermarket ones.

Unless someone sets the saw up for you, you will almost always have to fiddle with it to get it properly aligned and square, but that’s generally not a difficult job.

A couple more things about rip fences. First, many, like mine, have distance indicators that supposedly show you the distance between the fence and the blade. Mine even has a dopey little magnifying lens built in and a “micro adjustment wheel”. And, well, yeah, don’t rely on any of that guff to actually work. Just get out your handy tape measure and actually measure the distance from the fence to the blade. Remember the old adage: measure twice, cut once.

Second, some people, even people who really should know better get freaked out when they find out that the back end of a lot of these fences don’t lock down when you push down on the locking lever. The front does, but the back doesn’t, and actually it will flex a bit if you push on it hard at the back. They believe this makes setting the distance between the blade and the fence inaccurate somehow. And wow, some of them get weird, even a bit obsessive about it and think this is the most horrible thing ever, and because it isn’t locked down their cuts aren’t going to be accurate.

And I suppose it would be a problem if there were any actual pressure against the back end of the fence. But there isn’t. Or shouldn’t be.

Think about it for a minute. The only thing you should really care about is the area of the fence that lies in front of the blade and the point at which the wood is in contact with the blade. That is what controls the distance between the fence and the blade, not the back of the fence. The back of the fence doesn’t do anything except provide a smooth route out of the saw for the wood and keep the board straight. It has nothing to do with the actual cut. There should be very little force against that fence in any case, and most of that force is going to be before and at the point the cut is actually being made. That is where accuracy is an issue. Not at the back end of the fence after the cut has been made.

If that fence is deflecting, then you do have a problem because it shouldn’t be. If it is, that means there is something mechanically wrong with your fence or its lockdown mechanism, or you are pushing the wood against the fence with way too much force. That fence is there to be a guide. Period. You shouldn’t be putting any kind of significant pressure against it as you guide the wood through the saw.

In fact, there are valid reasons not to lock down the back of that fence, IMO. The primary one is safety. There is no such thing as a perfectly aligned saw. If that fence is locked down tight at both ends and can’t give a bit at the back, and the saw blade isn’t absolutely, perfectly, 100% aligned with that fence, and the wood isn’t absolutely straight with perfect grain, under the right circumstances it’s going to cause the wood to bind up between the back of the blade and the fence and this is not a good thing. Having a bit of deflection at the back of the rip fence can be a good thing.

Now that being said, some saws come with fences that do lock at both ends, and you can get a lot of aftermarket fences that do, and people like them and even think they are absolutely necessary. I think they’re wrong, but well, hell, I think so-called “american cheese” should be banned because it is neither American nor cheese, and that hasn’t happened yet, so there you go. And don’t get me started on “Canadian bacon” or “English muffins”…

Oh, wait, I’m getting off topic, aren’t I? What was I talking about? Oh, yeah, saws. Let’s see, where did I leave off… Okay, I finished that up, what’s left? Oh, miter gauge.

A miter gauge is a special device you use to measure those funny hats that bishops wear…

Typical piece of junk miter gauge similar to what most saws come with.

Oh, all right, I admit it, that was a really horrible joke but I couldn’t help myself. A miter gauge is, well, one of these things over there on the left. It’s a type of guide. You butt the hunk of wood up against it and then push it forward into the saw. It sits on a long rectangular shaft that slips into a groove ground into the table of the saw. In theory, it keeps your wood at the proper angle as you feed it into the blade. Normally you keep it locked at 90 degrees, but you can adjust it so you can make angled cuts as well.

Note that I said “in theory”. That’s because most of these are, frankly, junk. They’re usually way too small to adequately support the wood you’re trying to cut, hard to adjust, the angle settings are inaccurate, and they are just generally not very well made all the way around. I mean, come on, look at mine over there. The pointer is basically a roofing nail they soldered into a hole and bent over for heaven’s sake.

Don’t worry, though, I’ll talk about miter gauges in detail when I get to the “optional stuff” section of all of this coming up soon.

Very soon, I hope, because you’re probably getting just as bored with this as I am by this point.

Now I was going to show you a picture of the on/off switch on mine saw but I seem to have lost it… Oh, wait, there it is. Here we go, that’s it over on the right. I will not pull any punches here. That switch totally sucks. It isn’t the “Start” button that’s the problem, it’s that “Stop” button. It’s in an awkward position. I have to fumble around for it if I’m not at the right angle to directly see it. It’s wobbly and I have to fiddle with it to get it to work. It’s potentially dangerous, even, because in an emergency you need to shut that damn saw off RIGHT NOW because you need to pick up the finger you just cut off and get to the ER so you don’t want to have to be standing there fumbling around trying to find and then push the damned button. You want a nice, big, easy to find and easier to push OFF button. Granted I could retrofit this thing with a much better kill switch, so to speak, but, well, I’m lazy, I’m cheap… Well, you get the idea. Most modern saws come with much better switches than this one has. Or should.

Dust. Lots and lots of dust…

Finally let’s talk about dust. Table saws are really good at turning very expensive wood into great, heaping piles of sawdust, and you need a way of dealing with it. One of the advantages of cabinet saws is that most of that dust is confined in the cabinet where it can be easily sucked up with a dust collection system.

Dust collection on saws in this class is pretty much, well, to be honest it’s pretty much a joke. Mine makes an attempt at it. It has a plastic plate that bolts to the bottom of the saw body with a big hole in it to attach a vac or dust collection system. But since the whole back end of the saw is open (has to be because the motor mount and belt run through there) I get dust flying everywhere whether I bother to hook up the vac to the port or not. True, having the vacuum on helps a lot, but it still chucks a lot of dust out the back. It isn’t as bad as, oh, a big power sander or a lathe, but these saws do produce a significant amount of dust and you need to be prepared to deal with it. Breathing this stuff is most definitely not good for you. And if your shop is inside of your house, it’s going to get everywhere. Be prepared to change your HVAC system filters a lot. A dust collection system would be nice, but most of us don’t have the money or space to stick in an expensive dust collection system. I certainly don’t. My dust collection system is a big shop vac and a 21 inch fan in the shop window sucking the stuff out of the house before it can get into everything.

There are a lot more things about table saws I could get into but these are some of the important things and I imagine you’re getting just about as bored as I am by this time, so let’s get on with this.

Money, money, money… So much money…

So, what is a decent table saw in this class going to cost? Well if you thought that spending $500 on a contractor style saw was bad, you might want to go take a lie down before I drop some of these prices on you. When I bought my Jet about fifteen years ago, I spent somewhere between $500 to $600. That was a lot of money. Well, still is a lot of money. My model saw isn’t made any more, but to get one with capabilities you can expect to pay somewhere between $1,100 to $1,500. A Jet in the same class as the one I have looks like it is selling for over $1,400. Yeah, that $500 contractor style saw is starting to look a bit better, isn’t it? I knew these things had gone up drastically in price since I bought mine, but it wasn’t until I started doing some research to write this that I realized that they’d doubled in price in the last fifteen years. Ouch.

Can you get cheaper ones? Sure. Should you consider the cheaper ones? Definitely. But be very, very careful out there.

If the price sounds too good to be true, it is. Stay away. I’ve seen saws with silly, even ridiculous brand names that I’ve never heard of before selling for just a couple of hundred bucks. There is a reason why that saw is selling for $700 less than a Delta or Powermatic or Shop fox or the other well known names, and that reason is that it is a piece of junk. You cannot make a 10 inch table saw of any kind of decent quality and sell it for $200. I’m sorry, you just can’t. Even if you find reviews online claiming that these things are the best thing ever, don’t believe it. Stick with recognizable brand names and buy from reputable retailers. Delta, Shop fox, Rigid, DeWalt, Jet, Grizzley, Milwaukee, Bosch, SawStop, Powermatic all make pretty darn good saws.

What about used? You can get some really good deals on used table saws, but be careful. You can pick up a real gem at a good price, or you can get burned. But do your research first. There are forums and articles and videos galore out there with advice on what to look for when buying used, so go do some digging.

Oh, one final note before I move on. I want to talk for a minute about so-called benchtop saws. If all you’re doing is, oh, cutting up 2″x2″ square bits of wood to make pen blanks or building HO scale models, one of these might be useful, but generally speaking they’re utterly useless for any kind of serious woodworking.

Options

Now, let’s talk optional equipment and addons and other goodies people will try to sell you after you have a saw. Let’s get back to that crappy miter gauge first.

This one is sold by Woodcraft under their brand but is actually made by Incra.

Like I said, most of them aren’t worth much. If you’re doing work that requires accurately cutting angles and doing it safely, you’re going to want an aftermarket miter gauge like the one in the photo over there on the right. That is an Incra 1000SE. I’ve had it for a lot of years now but it is still in production. It is very, very accurate, easy to use, extendable, with built in hold down. The thing is just nice. Everything is adjustable so you can fine tune it to ridiculously tight tolerances. If you make fine furniture, picture frames, do cabinet making, anything that requires very accurate cuts, you need to consider throwing away the miter gauge that came with the saw and getting something like this. Kreg makes one that’s just as good as Incra’s and sells for a bit less.

And I’ll warn you right now it ain’t cheap. That thing is selling for around $190 right now. And you probably don’t need one as elaborate or accurate as this one is. I make furniture and picture frames and boxes and other things that require highly accurate cuts. I’d still encourage you to look into upgrading the miter gauge, though. There are much less elaborate versions that are significantly better than the ones most saws come with that sell for under $75.

Freud dado blade package. I should point out that dado blades are illegal in Europe. Apparently Europeans can’t be trusted with sharp objects? I know the UK was considering banning points on knives a few years ago. I wonder about people sometimes. I really do.

Dado saw blades: Well, first what’s a dado? Basically it’s a groove cut in a length of wood that will make a place to stick another piece of wood, like cutting slots in the carcase of a bookcase that the shelves will sit in. Rather than trying to chisel all that stuff out and probably screwing it up (I know I would) you get out your trusty dado blade, put together a stack with the right blades and shims to get the proper thickness, bolt it onto your saw, run the boards through, instant slot. Neat, clean, fast. Well, sometimes it’s neat, clean and fast. In actual use it’s a bit more difficult than that, but if you need to cut long grooves in wood, a dado blade comes in very handy. That’s my Freud in the photo up there. A set like that costs around $130 – $140. Do you need one? Heck, I don’t know. If you need one, you need one. If all you need to do is cut a slot in two boards, get a cheap one. If you need to make a lot of dadoes, get the more expensive, better quality ones. They’ll make a better cut with less chipping.

If I need a throat plate to accomodate a special saw, I just make my own.

And if you do get a dado blade, you’re going to need a different throat plate for your saw because it ain’t going to work with a 1/2 inch stacked dado cutter. You don’t need to buy one, though. You’re a woodworker, remember? Make your own. I do. All you need is a bit of hard maple (oak or ash would work too), a thickness planer, a jigsaw or scroll saw, and some sandpaper. Get a nice bit of hardwood. Use the thickness planer to shave it down to the thickness you need. Slap your existing throat plate onto the board and trace out the outline, then cut it out with a scroll saw and sand it down to get the fit right. Lower the saw all the way down. Slap the new throat plate into place, move the rip fence over the top of the new plate to hold it down, and with the saw running very slowly raise the blade up to cut through the new plate. Instant custom throat plate. Well, okay, not instant, but you get the idea.

Push sticks – Do I really have to tell you that you do not want to get your fingers anywhere near a saw blade spinning at about a gazillion RPM? I don’t? Good. You need push sticks to hold down and push the wood you are cutting. I buy ’em, make ’em myself, whatever. They’re easy to make, but they’re also really cheap to buy. I must have a dozen or more laying around because I keep misplacing the darned things. I have some I made for specific uses, like cutting larger panels that have fancy hand grips. Of course I couldn’t find them when I wanted to take a picture.

Stuff people will claim that you need but you really probably don’t

Special drive belts: If you start scrounging around on the internet or through woodworking magazines and the like sooner or later you’re going to run into an “expert” who will claim you need a special drive belt for your saw, specifically something called a “link belt”. They will claim that your standard V-belt is an abomination that is causing nasty vibrations, thumps and bumps and, oh, heck, I don’t know, probably causing the ice caps to melt, tuna to go extinct and my hair to fall out for all I know. Personally I think it’s a crock. I’ve used saws that were equipped with belts like these and I didn’t notice any difference at all in vibration, noise or anything else when compared with similar saws using normal V-belts.

Expensive aftermarket rip fences: Go back and read my comments about rip fences earlier. Most modern table saws in the price range I’m talking about here already come equipped with pretty good fences. I don’t see any need to “upgrade”. If you’re saw has a poor rip fence, by all means look into replacing it. There are good ones out there. Again, do some research.

Anti-vibration gubbins that bolt to your blade or arbor or on the legs of your saw: For a while I was seeing these things advertised all over the place, but it seems to have faded a bit in the last ten years or so. The claim was that your saw blade is a weak, wimpy thing that shakes and rattles and vibrates and is hurting the accuracy of your saw. Yeah, sure it is. If you have a decently made, good quality saw blade, no, it isn’t. And if you have a cheap, crappy, badly made saw blade, these things aren’t going to help in any case. Basically the ones I’ve seen are little more than big washers that do literally nothing. Clamping a big steel washer to the side of your saw blade is going to do nothing to balance that blade. And since the majority of the blade isn’t supported by that thing, it is still going to flex and shake if it isn’t well made.

Specialty jigs: There are a lot of companies out there who will gleefully sell you all kinds of jigs that are supposed to make life easier for you. I have to be honest and admit I’ve fallen for it and bought some of them. Learn from my mistakes. Most of them aren’t worth it. I make a lot of mortise and tenon joints for furniture, and I went and bought one of those things over there on the right, a special jig for making tenons. I dropped, oh, heck, it was probably around $130 or so on that sucker. Does it work? Uh, well, sort of? To be fair, yeah, it does. But here’s the problem. It takes so long to get it set up, takes so many test cuts to make sure the depth and width is set properly, that by the time I got the thing set to accurately make the actual tenon, I could have cut a half dozen of them using just my dado cutter and miter gauge. Seriously.

That’s the biggest problem with these jigs for making speciality cuts, they work but often are so fiddly and take so long to get set up that you’re better off not bothering and doing it by hand, especially if you only have to make a few cuts like that.

Of course on the other hand I did drop over $400 on my mortising machine and I wouldn’t give that up for anything. But if you’d ever had to make dozens of mortises the old fashioned way with a drill, wood chisels and a mallet, you’d know why.

SawStop saws:

The last thing I want to talk about are SawStop saws. I will say right up front that I like Sawstop saws. A lot.

The SawStop system consists of an electronics package together with a gadget that is something like the disc brake system on a car, only more so, and a drop system. Electronic sensors constantly monitor the saw. If it senses that you just shoved your finger into that saw blade, it instantly stops the saw and drops the blade down through the table. The demonstrations are undeniably impressive. They usually take a hotdog or piece of raw chicken and just barely touch the blade and Bang! It happens so fast that the saw just barely nicks the sausage or chicken before it stops and drops.

The system is, well, damn, it’s impressive. Look at the brief demo below.

I have worked with SawStop saws and they are very, very nice. We had them at the school district in the high school technical/engineering department. They are very, very safe. They work exactly like they show in that video. The merest touch of skin and BANG!, the saw shuts down virtually instantly.

But you’re going to pay for that safety. The cheapest one I’ve seen is $1,400 for their portable job site style saw. A “contractor” style saw goes for $1,700 (All things considered, that’s not really that bad of a price), and the cabinet style saws can run over $4,000.

So the safety system is impressive, but how does it work as an actual saw? Like I said I’ve used these things and they’re very good. The quality all the way around was well above average. They were accurate, powerful and pretty much top of the line saws.

Would I buy one? In a heartbeat. That’s how much I like them. If I personally was shopping for a table saw, the first one I’d be looking at is one of the Sawstop saws, probably that “contractor” style one for $1,700 or so. If I ever need to replace the Jet I have now, it will be a Sawstop that takes its place. No, I am not getting paid to say that. I like the saws that much.

The system isn’t cheap, obviously. If it does trip, the guts of the thing have to be replaced. There is a cartridge type thing you have to replace that will cost you about $70, plus the saw blade will have to be replaced. So let’s say it’ll cost you about $200 total to replace the cartridge and blade if it trips.

And it does have false alarms occasionally. We had it trigger when trying to cut pressure treated lumber, green lumber, things like that. But the false alarms were very rare. If I had one I’d buy a spare cartridge or two to have on hand just in case.

And here’s the thing you have to ask yourself, how much are your fingers worth? Spending $200 to replace a cartridge and saw blade is a hell of a lot expensive (and less painful) than a trip to the ER.

That’s it for now. Next time thickness planers and jointers and whatever else I can shovel in before I get bored.

Autumn is here

Well, okay, not according to the calendar. But as far as I’m concerned the seasons change not by the actual date but according to the weather conditions. We got hit with a hard frost the other day and that pretty much brings the growing season to an end for a lot of our plants. So that means it’s autumn no matter what the calendar may say.

And while it may be chilly outside, we’re still getting a new central air system put in tomorrow morning. Our old air conditioning system is probably pushing 25+ years, if not a bit more than that. It’s actually a bit amazing that it lasted this long. But it has a freon leak now, and while they could probably repair it, we’d still have a 25 year old AC system that could fail at any time just when we need it most. This is as good a time as any to get it done. Probably the ideal time, really. The air conditioning season is over, the heating season hasn’t started yet, so the company has the time to do it. So we might as well get it over with now so we’re ready when the heat comes next summer.

Gads, it’s going to be an expensive fall, though. The AC is going to run us $3,200 (this is a big house). The contractor just called and said our new windows and doors are now ordered so he’s going to be rolling in sometime in a couple of weeks to do that, that’s going to be over $7,000. Ouch. Still, it all needs to get done. Especially the windows. One window on the north side of the house is literally rotting away and won’t survive a winter and the exterior door is nearly as bad. So once that’s done we’ll be ready for cold weather. And we got a taste of that already as you can see from the frost covered grass below.

It got cold. The remote sensor for the thermometer is out on the front porch which is pretty sheltered, and that said it got down to 32 F so that means out in the yard and gardens it got well below 30. The grass out in the yard was white with frost before the sun came up and the roof was covered with frost, so it was pretty cold out there for a fairly extended period of time overnight.

This is the time of year when we’d normally have so many pears we didn’t know what to do with them, so it seems odd not having the tree any more. While I do miss having fresh pears, I don’t miss having the tree, to be honest. It collapsing and having to be removed wasn’t really a bad thing. If it were still there the whole area would be covered with a thick carpet of fallen pears, and those would be covered with bees, wasps and, well, it could get nasty out there. MrsGF and I would no sooner pick up 5 gallon buckets full of the things, and the tree would drop a few hundred more.

We’re already talking about what we’re going to do with that area. Now that it isn’t shaded out by the tree we can grow just about anything out there and we don’t have to worry about finding plants that can handle shade. We’re thinking about putting a raised bed out there or expanding the existing garden that was being shaded out by the tree that we had in flowers.

The frost brought an end to the tomatoes, of course. But that’s not a big loss because they were already well on the way to winding up anyway. The peppers are still doing fine, though. They aren’t as fragile as tomatoes are and are in a sheltered area that didn’t get hit with the frost.

The raised beds did very, very well again this year. Building those was the best thing we’ve done in the garden over the years. We cut back on the number of tomato plants drastically this year and still had more than we really needed. We planted onions around the outside edges of the raised bed and that worked out beautifully as well. The onions did really well. We didn’t have to buy a single onion all season. Just walk out to the garden and grab one. I am really going to miss that. I’m going to miss the flavor even more. Like just about everything else we grow the flavors are much more intense than the produce we get from the store.

We took a break and drove all the way to the lakeshore between Manitowoc and Two Rivers to have a picnic. Cold down there along the lakeshore, but wow, it was a beautiful day. Had a very pleasant afternoon down there. With Wisconsin’s infection rate now totally out of control and the county we live in having one of the highest infection rates in the state, opportunities to do anything are a bit restricted so just getting out and about was nice.

I haven’t talked about the virus and how it is effecting our lives because, well, you get enough of that everywhere else, don’t you? Still it’s very frustrating. This was supposed to be more or less under control by this time. Instead the number of new infections is hitting new records almost every day here in the state. It’s completely out of control here. ICUs around here are at full capacity and they’re trying to find beds in other hospitals in the state and, well, it’s scary. MrsGF and I are both in one or more high risk groups so… Well, you know. To top it off I pretty much have virus like symptoms all the time. I have upper respiratory allergies so I always have congestion, watery eyes, stuffed up sinuses, a slight cough, etc. Basically I have almost all of the early symptoms of the virus all the time except the fever. Sigh…

But enough of that. How about a rose instead?

Yes, we still have flowers despite the frost. Some of the flowers are pretty resistant to cold weather and are still doing fine, and we have a potted rose up on the front deck that’s still in full flower.

Let’s see, what else…

I’m going to take a stab at resin casting, which ought to be interesting. I’ve gotten reasonably good at wood turning and am now looking for a way to expand on that a bit by doing stuff like, well, this-

I doubt I’ll ever get as good as this guy, but what the heck, why not give it a try and see what happens? I’m rather impatient to give this a try. I have just about everything I need except for the resin and that should be here this week. I hope. More about that when it actually happens. A lot of the videos you see make it resin casting look easy. It isn’t. I expect my share of utter disasters as I get started with this.

And once again the importance of proper safety gear was proven to me rather dramatically when this happened:

Ouch, that could have been nasty. I was turning a bit of white oak when the tool got caught, hard, on an imperfection in the wood. Not only did the force snap the tool in half, it hit so hard it actually bent the tool rest on the lathe and I have to get a new tool rest. The metal part of the tool snapped clean out of the handle, splitting the handle in half, and flew up and hit me square in the face. If I hadn’t had the face shield on, well, it would have been nasty as I said.

MrsGF and some family members have once again been suggesting I try selling some of the stuff I’ve been cranking out. And I suppose that some of it is good enough that it might be marketable. But there are so many issues with trying to sell stuff and, well, is it worth the effort? I used to run my own business so I know a bit about all of the permits, red tape and tax issues that go along with operating a business legally. Emphasis on that word, legally. A lot of people try to slip under the radar, thinking that they’re too small and insignificant for the government to bother going after them if they try to ignore all of that. But do you really want to take that risk? Heck, even zoning can be a problem. You may be turning out some really neat stuff down there in your work room in the basement or that spare bedroom, and no one is going to bother you because it’s a hobby. But if you start selling it, well, now you are a business, a manufacturer, and a lot of communities have very strict zoning ordinances concerning manufacturing. Zoning boards are often very unforgiving. They don’t give a fig if all you’re making a few pens and selling ’em on Etsy. You’re making and selling stuff commercially so you are a manufacturer. Period. Things can be even more strict if you’re in a home owners association.

And then there’s pricing your stuff. I did a scrounge around Etsy the other day looking at the various vendors selling bowls and, well, either they’re losing their shirts on every sale or something funny is going on. I found one person selling 6 inch wide, two inch deep “hand crafted solid black walnut” bowls for $20. Seriously? You add up the cost of the wood, sand paper, the finishing materials, add in a bit to cover the cost of the tools, the lathe, etc., and you’re already losing money at that price. And that isn’t even beginning to add in the cost of Etsy’s fees, bookkeeping, filing taxes, or the maker’s time to produce the bowl. So yeah, either the maker is losing his shirt on every sale, or there’s something unethical going on. I did some quick estimates and I’d figure that just to break even I’d have to sell a bowl like that for about $35, and that would be essentially doing all the labor for free. And he’s running them out for $20?

So the thing is, even if I’m only turning out a bowl a week or so, it’s just not worth the hassle to try to go commercial and sell this stuff.

That’s all for now. I’m working on the next part in the tool series. That’s going to be covering the big stuff like table saws, jointers, planers and other big ticket items. I’m having to do some serious research because I’m not really up on what’s going on in the market right now. I’ve owned all of my big power tools for at least 10 – 15 years. One of the good things about big ticket items like this is that while they’re expensive, generally speaking they’ll last you a lifetime, so you only need to buy them once. Hopefully.

Sidenote: I rarely look at the viewer statistics but I did notice an interesting thing the other day. It seems a lot of my readers are from India. On a lot of days the number of visitors from India outnumber even those from the US. India is one of the most amazing places on the planet, so I’m delighted by that. I don’t understand how they found this goofy blog, but I’m thrilled they come and read this.

Tools Part II: Hand Tools For Cutting and Keeping Them Sharp

Making just about anything out of wood means that you are going to need to cut the wood into the correct size and shape for it to be useful. For centuries the only tools carpenters had for cutting and shaping wood were hand saws, wood chisels, and hand planes. And those three hand tools are still essential today. While I use power tools whenever I possibly can (I may be crazy but I’m not stupid) I still use good old fashioned hand versions of those tools all the time.

I’m going to keep this as simple and cheap. You can spend thousands of dollars on hand tools, a lot of them speciality items that you’re probably never going to use or will use only rarely. What you really only need is one saw, three different size chisels, and one or maybe two hand planes. All of the ones I’m going to recommend are reasonably cheap, except for the one hand plane, and you can probably get along nicely without the expensive one. Yes, I have a lot of speciality tools, and I have some tools that are pretty damned pricey, but when it comes down to it the ones I use most often and couldn’t live without are these few.

Saws

Note how the teeth are bent out from the blade. This creates the kerf. Both the bend angle and the grind angle determine if the saw is a rip saw or a cross cut saw.

Saws are a basic tool that have been around since at least the time of the ancient Egyptians. They have evolved a lot over the years but it is basically a metal blade with a series of teeth cut into the edge. The teeth are set at a specific angle and ground in a specific way so they not only cut wood, but also drag the cut wood out of the kerf (the slot left by a saw as it cuts through wood). Without the teeth being set and ground properly, the saw would become jammed in the kerf. The set of the teeth (how far out from the blade of the saw they extend) determines how wide the kerf will be. How the teeth are set and ground also determines if the saw is for ripping or cross cutting. A rip saw is designed to cut with the direction of the grain, while a crosscut saw cuts across the grain. Don’t worry about that, though. You don’t need to have two types of hand saws. I certainly don’t. If I have to rip a board lengthwise I’m going to use my table saw or a circular saw with a guide, not a hand saw. Trying to rip a board down the middle with a hand saw is not something most people want to do. But I will grab a hand saw to whack off five inches of a 2X4 that’s too long rather than go trying to find where I left my circular saw.

So you’re ready to get a handsaw, you run down to the local hardware store, and you grab one of these over there in the photo on the right because, well, it’s a saw, right? A good old fashioned more or less generic Stanley saw. And it will work. Not very well, but it will work. But all things considered, a saw like this will probably work reasonably well for you.

But there is a problem with that saw. The same problem shared by all western style saws. As I said, they don’t work very well.

The problem with western style saws is that they cut on the push stroke. Think about that for a minute. You’re wielding a tool made of a thin, floppy piece of metal, and trying to push it through a piece of wood. What happens? If the saw binds in the kerf or if you move the handle of the saw just a tiny bit left or right while pushing, the saw binds up, comes to an abrupt stop, and the metal blade bends. If you’re lucky that’s all that happens and when you pull back the blade will straighten. If you’re not lucky, you now have a permanently bent saw. This is not a good thing.

Then I discovered Japanese style saws a few years ago and the only thing I use my western style saws for these days is hanging on the wall and serving as a home for spiders. The Japanese saws are simple, elegant, razor sharp, cut on the pull stroke, and generally are so much easier and nicer to use that I haven’t touched one of my western style saws since.

My favorite is from a Japanese maker called Suizan. This one is has a blade a bit less than 10 inches long, has coarse teeth on one side and fine on the other, is razor sharp. It is my all around utility saw here in the shop and the one I use almost all the time. It is a joy to use. It’s not that expensive, either, about $39, and the blade alone can be bought for about $20. Can you get them resharpened when they start to dull? You probably could, but at only $20 for a replacement blade I suspect that having one resharpened would cost more than buying a replacement. Just chuck the old one in recycling and bolt on a new one.

Speciality Saws

Dovetail saw. The only thing I’ll say about it is that you don’t need one, and if you do need one, don’t buy this one because it’s a piece of junk.

I’m going to mention these saws even though you most likely aren’t going to need any of them. At least not unless you’re a really, really high end carpenter turning out very detailed, complex projects. If you’ve done any research at all about woodworking you already know that there are a lot of speciality saws out there like tenon saws, dovetail saws, “gentleman’s” saws, back saws and I don’t know what all else. What about those? Just pretend they don’t exist. Seriously. Oh, they have their place. If, that is, you’re working someplace like Colonial Williamsburg where you have to abandon modern technology and are trying to recreate the past. In the real world, the one you and I live in, no, you don’t need ’em. Do you know when I last cut a dovetail by hand? Maybe twenty years ago just to see if I could do it. If I have to cut dovetails for a joint I use a jig and a router. And as for the other speciality saws? Don’t need ’em. Look, I build full sized wardrobes, cabinets, boxes, chests, make my own hardwood panels for tables, build bookcases, tables, arts and crafts furniture, have made hundreds of mortise and tenon joint and all that fun stuff, and I have never needed one of those speciality hand saws.

Chisels

So, why do you need chisels? See that chair over there on the left? That’s one of mine. There isn’t a single screw or nail in that chair. It’s put together entirely with mortise and tenon joints. A lot of mortise and tenon joints. And while most of them were cut with power tools, the final fitting of the joints was done using wood chisels. Whenever you’re trying to fit bits of wood together you’ll find situations where you need to trim just wee bit off to get something to fit, and often the best tool to use for that is one of these:

Now the set with the wooden handles I have is darn near 20 years old at this point, and back then I paid about $120 or so for those, a pretty hefty chunk of money back then. These are Woodcraft brand and I just looked and they don’t seem to carry these any more. A comparable set I did find over there though was going for… Wait, seriously??? $230??? For a set of six chisels? Well, I suppose with inflation and all that, that’s something I should have expected.

What I’m about to tell you would probably give some woodworkers a stroke, but forget about fancy matched sets, things like “Sheffield steel” and “hand forged” and all that guff. You don’t need a fancy boxed set of over priced chisels. You don’t need six, you could probably get away with two, a one inch and a half inch, and maybe a one-quarter inch. For most people those three are all you’ll probably ever need. Of all the chisels I have, the 1 inch and the 1/2 inch are the ones I use about 95% of the time.

And here’s another thing. One of those chisels up there is not like the others. Way off on the left is that nasty looking one with the black handle. Guess what? The reason it looks nasty is because that one lives on the workbench and gets used for everything. It’s a Stanley brand, looks nasty, has a cheap, dented and stained plastic handle, and I paid a whopping $1 for it at a garage sale. Yeah, a buck. And guess what? It works just as good as the high end Sheffield steel ones to its right. Oh, it doesn’t feel quite as good in my hand, it looks awful, but it holds an edge almost as well as the expensive ones. And because it was so cheap I’m not afraid to whack it with hammers, use it to open paint cans, scrape glue or whatever.

So don’t get all goofy about chisels the way some people do. Just go get yourself two or three cheap Stanley’s off the wall at the local hardware store.

The woodworking “elite” will have a fit about this, but when it comes down to it a chisel is, well, a chisel. What matters isn’t the brand, what the handle is made of or any of that. What matters is if it can be sharpened easily and can hold an edge while being used. Period.

But I’ll be honest, I still love those Woodcraft ones and I think they are much, much better. But whether that is because they really are better, or I just think they are, well, I’m not really sure.

Sidenote: I talk about the Stanley brand hand tools quite a bit in this because it is a brand just about anyone who has ever been in a hardware store will recognize, not because I have stock in the company or something like that. I know a lot of people badmouth Stanley hand tools and I’m not sure why. They’re cheap, usually of decent quality, and generally better than the more generic brands that seem to pop up and then vanish almost overnight every few months.

Planes

The other cutting hand tool I want to talk about is the handplane.

Planes get complicated real fast because there are dozens of different types of special purpose planes out there. But you really don’t need to worry about any them. While there are some really neat speciality planes, generally when it comes to those speciality needs you’re going to resort to using power tools like a router, shaper, jointer or planer. But the two most basic types of hand planes can be very useful.

A hand plane is, well, basically it’s a wood chisel held in a special frame. The frame holds the plane iron (the cutting bit) it at a specific height and angle so it doesn’t cut too deep and helps to direct shavings up away from the throat of the plane and out of the way of the cut. It lets you smooth off high spots on a piece of wood, trim the edges of a board, trim the edge of a door that doesn’t fit, shave off sharp corners, that kind of thing.

The one on the bottom is my favorite. That is a Stanley block plane (sheesh, there’s Stanley again). Block planes are a bit different from a standard bench plane (that’s the one with the wooden handles in that photo). The blade is set at a lower angle, with the bevel up, and it is designed to cut end grain easily and do light touch up work, take off sharp edges, and work across the grain instead of with the grain. It’s small enough to use with one hand, fairly lightweight and easy to use. This one lives full time on my workbench and it gets used a lot. I use it for cleaning up tenons, knocking off sharp edges and things like that.

They’re handy and reasonably cheap. Dear lord, don’t buy into the hype and pay a hundred bucks or more for one of the fancy ones block planes!. The Stanley works quite nicely, thank you very much, and you can get one for about $30 off Amazon. Yes, you’ll need to do some tinkering with it to get it to work really well, although out of the box is generally isn’t horrible. You’ll definitely need to sharpen the blade and perhaps flatten it. And you may need to flatten the sole of the plane. But that’s easy enough to do with some wet/dry sand paper glued to a sheet of glass. And there’s no need to get obsessive about it and get out your micrometers and all that. Close is good enough for a block plane.

If you do get a plane, I recommend you go out on the internet and look at a short 7 minute video at Fine Woodworking’s website about how to properly “tune up” a plane. (https://www.finewoodworking.com/2013/09/26/handplane-tune-up-tips) Most hand planes will need to be checked over and have some work done to them before they work really well. It isn’t that hard to do, doesn’t take long, and that video goes through the basics pretty well. If you know what you’re doing you can take even take a not very good hand plane and make it work at least reasonably well.

The other plane up there is my Wood River #4 1/2 bench plane.

So, what’s a bench plane do, and do you need one? Basically this is what you’d call a smoothing plane. It’s used to smooth the surface of wood, take down high spots, smooth rough areas and things like that. The #4 is the most common size, usually about 9″ long and with a blade that’s about 2″ wide. I find the #4 a good, all around size. But I prefer the 4 1/2 personally.

So what’s with the 1/2 bit? The 4 1/2 is longer, about 10″, the blade is a bit wider, and it is considerably heavier. I work with mostly hardwoods like white oak and ash, and since I build furniture I work with some lengthy pieces of wood. The 4 1/2 is heavier, meaning it’s easier to keep enough downforce on it to keep a cut going even in hardwood. It’s slightly wider so it covers more territory. And the way I have this one set up and tuned up I have virtually zero tearout. It is smooth and slick and cuts through hardwood like butter, peeling off shavings so thin you can almost read through them. I love this plane. I used this plane to smooth down a white ash table top that was two and a half feet wide and almost four feet long. If it can handle that, it can handle anything.

But do you need one? While they can be nice to have, probably not. Not for a newcomer to woodworking. Nor is something like this an impulse purchase because this is the most expensive hand tool in the whole bunch. The Wood River up there currently is selling for about $200. Granted the Wood River is a high quality hand plane. There are more expensive ones on the market but I did a lot of research before buying this one and the Wood River line of hand planes is just plain good across the board. (oh, wait, that was a pun, wasn’t it – plane, plain. Feel free to wince if you like.)

What about the cheap ones? You can pick up generic bench planes for not much more than that Stanley block plane. But almost all of those aren’t worth the effort it would take to recycle ’em. I have a few of those cheap models, and no matter what I do to them to try to properly tune them up, they’re so badly made with such poor tolerances and poor materials they’re pretty much hopeless.

What about used planes? Well, good luck in finding one at a decent price. Old hand planes have become collectors items, and collectors have driven the price of old planes through the roof. If you do find one chances are good it’s been used hard and will be in bad condition and won’t be good for anything except as a display piece.

In my opinion you probably won’t need a bench plane unless you start to get into building high end stuff. For most of us, all you really need is that $30 block plane.

Sharpening Stuff

Sooner rather than later you are going to need to sharpen this stuff. Chisels get dull, plane irons get dull, saws get dull, and when that happens they don’t work well and can even be dangerous. A mentor of mine once said that more people get hurt by dull tools than sharp ones, and he had a very valid point. Unfortunately nothing seems to generate more hot air, bluster and nonsense than the topic of sharpening. Entire books have been written about sharpening, there are hundreds of hours of video floating around out there, and to be frank, a lot of it is pure nonsense. Some people get ridiculously obsessive about sharpening, often to the point where I don’t see how they ever actually get any work done because they’re spending all their time trying to get the perfect edge on their tools rather than actually doing any work.

Saw Sharpening

I don’t recommend sharpening saws yourself. It requires special tools and skills and generally isn’t worth the effort. Use a sharpening service. Or better yet start using the Japanese style saws like the Suizan up there and when it goes dull just recycle the blade and buy a new one. As I said before, $20 for a replacement blade is probably going to be cheaper than trying to get it resharpened. And the blades last a long, long time.

Chisel and Plane Sharpening

This is something you can do for yourself, and you’ll have to do it because chisels and plane irons get dull pretty quickly depending on what you’re doing with them.

There is a lot of silly stuff floating around on the internet about sharpening, and most of it isn’t worth bothering to read or listen to. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a subject where people get more weird and obsessive than sharpening. This is going to irritate a lot of people, I imagine, but when you find these guys talking about getting mirror polish on the bevels, sharp enough to shave with, and all that guff, it’s just that, guff. It doesn’t matter! The goal isn’t producing a chisel or plane iron that you can shave with, it’s creating an edge sharp enough to cut wood and staying sharp during a reasonable amount of use. I’ve seen Youtube videos of guys spending twenty bloody minutes to get the perfect edge on a chisel. But guess what? The very first time they actually use that chisel the edge is already starting to dull and it doesn’t cut wood any better than my chisels do. And it takes me maybe 30 seconds to sharpen mine.

Don’t get me wrong. Sharpening your tools is incredibly important, and it’s something I have to do so often that I have a workbench setup exclusively for that purpose. And you’ll notice that there isn’t a single leather strop, expensive sharpening stone, exotic honing oils or or diamond hones or any of that other stuff sitting around there. Just two power grinders, the Rikon with the white abrasive wheels for my lathe tools, and the Work Sharp sharpening wheel I use for chisels and plane irons.

Let’s look at a really bad drawing of the parts of a chisel.

Thought I was kidding when I said it was a really bad drawing, didn’t you?

When sharpening a chisel (or a plane iron) there are three things we’re concerned with; the angel of the bevel, the cutting edge and, believe it or not, the back side of the chisel. You’d think that the only important thing when sharpening a chisel is getting that cutting edge sharp. But that’s only one third of the whole process. All three of those determine how well the chisel will cut wood. Sounds complicated but it takes me a half minute or less to do it.

Here’s a short video of me down below sharpening my $1 garage sale special Stanley chisel, and doing it in less than half a minute. How? I cheat of course. I use a machine. In this case it’s a Work Sharp sharpening system. And yes, it works just as easy and fast as it shows in the video once you get it set up. I admit it isn’t cheap. It goes for about $200 over on Amazon. But the darn thing just works. I don’t know how much time and effort this thing has saved me in the years I’ve owned it. I’ve had this one for, good grief, must be ten years or so now. It is one of the very few sharpening tools I own that actually lives up to its advertising.

Let’s see if this video thingie actually works and take a look at me actually sharpening a chisel, in this case my beat up old $1 garage sale Stanley.

dear lord that shop is a mess!

Egads, looks like it did upload the video. Okay, let’s go through this.

I blackened the backside of the chisel and the bevel to make it easier to see what actually happens. First I put the back of the chisel flat down on the sharpening wheel and hold it in place to make sure the back of the chisel is perfectly flat. Once I do that, I put it in the guide underneath and slide it up onto the underside of the wheel, which also has an abrasive on it. The guide holds it at the correct angle for the bevel. Then when it was finished sharpening I got a piece of scrap oak and sliced some end grain to see how sharp it was. Which was pretty darn sharp. It doesn’t slice through end grain like a hot knife through butter, but it’s pretty darned close to that. You couldn’t shave with that chisel, but I don’t want to shave with it, I just want it to cut wood, and it does quite nicely, thank you. And it took – what? Less than 20 seconds to sharpen it?

But, GF, you say, I don’t want to drop $200 just to sharpen a chisel. Good for you. I don’t blame you at all, and you don’t have to. You can do it by hand with a piece of glass, some wet/dry sandpaper and one of these.

As the label says, that’s a honing guide made by Veritas. It, along with the gadget to help you set the correct bevel angle, will set you back about $70, or a bit less if you shop around. When set up properly it will hold your chisel or plane iron at the proper angle. Then you get out a piece of glass, stick some wet/dry sandpaper to it, and use the guide to hold the chisel properly while you move it back and forth across the sandpaper. You start with maybe, oh, 240 grit paper, and work your way up to 1,000 grit. That should give you and edge that’s more than sharp enough for general woodworking.

It works reasonably well, and I sharpened chisels like this for a long time before I got the Work Sharp rig.

That’s it for this time. In part 3 I’ll look at tools where the prices do get pretty high pretty fast, power tools.