Christmas Roses, Chicken Gaming, Sanding, and a Violet

Yes, a Christmas rose! It was a beautiful sunny Christmas morning here, if a bit cold out, I walked over to the window and saw this. One of two new budding roses on that goofy little rose bush that started out life as a $5 teacup rose I bought on impulse for MrsGF a few years ago. Roses blooming in Wisconsin on Dec. 25? Hey, I’m not going to complain. It was an unexpected and amazingly beautiful Christmas gift.

Her Christmas cactus is being equally fruitful. It has been in full blossom since October and is still going.

Anyway, let’s get on with this…

Wow people must be bored out there because people have actually been emailing questions to me (old.grouchyfarmer@gmail.com is how you can get in touch with me but be warned I do not check this email account more than once a week or two. If you want a fast response the best way is to just leave a comment). So I’m going to talk about some of the questions I’ve received over the last few weeks.

First someone told me they heard that KFC was coming out with its own gaming console. Yeah, right, I thought. Sure it is… Only, yeah, they are.

The KFC gaming console, complete with built in chicken warmer.

There it is, folks, the Kentucky Fried Chicken’s gaming console. KFC is supposedly coming out with its very own video game console, completely with a special warming unit to keep your chicken warm while you, oh, blow up aliens or something. And yes, it’s real. At least according to Snopes. Supposedly there is a special rack inside of this thing that uses the heat generated from the electronics to keep your nuggets or whatever warm.

At first I thought this was the stupidest thing I’d ever heard of, but then I thought, well, why the heck not? Yes, it’s silly and utterly ridiculous, but we need something that’s ridiculous and fun and silly to take our minds off what’s going on out in the real world right now. So go for it. Heck, if it isn’t too expensive when (if) it comes out I might buy one.

Sanding

So let’s talk about sanding next. A couple of writers mentioned in emails to me there are some people out there, especially woodturners, who get a bit, well, weird shall we say, when it comes to sanding. Both of them turned my attention to YouTube videos showing woodturners going to extraordinary, even ridiculous lengths, like sanding a bit of wood to 1,000 grit or even higher, in one case wet sanding at 4,000 grit. Then using all kinds of exotic polishing abrasive pastes and, well, it’s just ridiculous. Yes, I understand they want a lovely, high gloss finish on their finished product. But a lot of what they’re doing is a complete waste of time and money.

Look at these two bowls. Both of these have a beautiful, very high gloss shine on them. And if you could run your fingers over them you’d feel that both are as smooth as glass. Even the one on the left with all of it’s bark inclusions and peculiar grain structure is like that. Both of those bowls were only sanded up to 240 grit. That’s it. No special expensive and exotic polishing abrasives, no wet sanding at 1,000 grit. No fancy tools or anything else. Just plain old sandpaper starting at 80 grit and working up to 240. And no fancy, expensive, difficult to apply finishes, either. One has nothing but OB shine juice on it and the other is carnauba wax over the top of shellac sealer.

Yes, I might have gotten a bit better finish if I’d gone up to 400 grit when I was sanding, but after a while you reach the point of diminishing returns. The effort and expense doesn’t justify the end result. I look at this the same way I look at sharpening tools. There is such a thing as “good enough”. Yes my chisels might cut slightly better if I went to the trouble of putting a mirror finish on them, but not that much better. And that slight improvement is going to be lost after making a few cuts anyway. I know that from experience. So what’s the point? I feel the same way about sanding. Yes, if someone examines one of those bowls up close with a magnifier they’ll probably see some very fine scratches. But so what? People aren’t going to be taking out a jeweler’s loupe or magnifying glass to look for every defect they can find. They’re going to be looking at that bowl from a distance of several feet. Even if they pick it up they aren’t going to see a problem. So why go to the additional work and expense of carrying things farther?

Of course there are exceptions. There always are. I’ve been talking about wood. When it comes to resin things are different. Resin is great fun to work with, but it presents its own unique challenges. One of my first resin experiments is over there on the left. The end result doesn’t look too bad, but lordy did I have problems getting it to that point because, frankly, I had no idea what the heck I was doing when I started messing with this stuff. I had to do considerably more work to get this little lamp smooth and scratch free, but in the end I still didn’t have to go to the extremes I’ve seen people go to on YouTube. This one was sanded to much higher grit than my wood projects, but only to 600 grit. And I did use a final abrasive paste/polish before putting a finish on it. But that’s it. I didn’t sand it up to 1,000 grit or more, didn’t wet sand it, didn’t do anything extraordinary. The wood parts were treated with my usual sealer, and the whole thing was topped off with a buffed coat of carnauba wax.

This is a scraper. It’s basically just a piece of sheet steel.

All of this only applies to woodturning, of course. If you’re working with flat surfaces like furniture you may want to go with an entirely different approach, which is to not do sanding at all. I rarely resort to sandpaper with my furniture. I use cabinet scrapers. Once I learned about these and how to properly use them, I found out that if used properly you can often get away with not needing to sand a flat wooden surface at all before applying the finish. These things have saved me hours of sanding, and it’s well worth the effort to learn how to use and sharpen them. Here’s a short video explaining what they are and how to use them.

Getting the proper burr on the edge isn’t a big deal, either. You can do it by hand but I use one of these things over there on the right. It’s from Veritas and it will put the proper burr on a scraper in just a few seconds.

How well do they work? Well look at that table down below. I made that, oh, must be 20 years ago now. It could probably use some refinishing about now, but considering how old it is and that it has survived two teenaged boys and their friends, a rambunctious golden retriever and several crazed pussy cats, it’s held up pretty well. And except for the curved edges, none of that wood was touched by sandpaper. It was prepped for finish with just cabinet scrapers.

Of course it all depends on the “look” you’re trying to achieve. Personally I like wood that looks and feels like wood. I think wood is beautiful all on its own and doesn’t need much to make it look better. And on my furniture I want people to not just see that beautiful grain, but to feel it, too. My stuff is made to be used, to be touched, and to be lived with. I don’t like these high gloss, glass smooth finishes that a lot of people put on furniture. I think it makes it look like plastic, not real.

Anyway, that’s my two cents on that. Remember that there is such a thing as “good enough”, and once you reach that point, seriously think about whether it is worth the effort to go farther.

And to wrap this up, here’s a violet in the early Christmas morning sun.

A Review: The Tools (And Products) of 2020

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

Rikon 10-3061 Bandsaw: Score – 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

Delta 46-460 Midi-Lathe: Score – 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

I really expected better from Delta.

Rikon 8″ Low Speed Grinder: Score – 9

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

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

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

Wolverine Grinding Jig with Vari-Grind: Score – 8

You can probably tell this thing gets used a lot.

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

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

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

Nova 4 Jaw Chuck: Score – 9

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

ShopFox Air Filtration System: Score – 8

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

Starbond CA Adhesives: Score – 5

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

Naked Fusion Deep Pour Resin: Score – 9

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

“OB Shine Juice”: Score – 3

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

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

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

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

Zinsser Shellac: Score – 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This one is probably going to get thrown out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dust, dust everywhere.

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

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

New Resin cast

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

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

There’s wood in there. Somewhere.

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