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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Let’s talk about green and wet wood. There are a lot of woodturners out there who love to work with green wood, and there are some advantages to doing so. It cuts very easily, produces less dust and allows you to work far more quickly than if the wood was dry. But that’s where the advantages end because once you’ve turned that bowl or other object you are still left to deal with the fact that you’ve got a wet piece of wood that is going to distort, warp, split and crack as it dries unless you do something about it.
These experts claim this isn’t a problem and that if you do things right everything will work out just fine and dandy. (Personally I think some of these guys have been breathing lacquer fumes too long.) Their solutions to this problem range from painting it with various substances, cutting it in specific ways on the lathe, burying it in buckets full of strange pellets and I don’t know what all else. I’m fortunate enough that I have the time and resources to be able to experiment with a lot of things and I’ve tried most of these techniques and I can tell you from personal experience that none of them actually work very well. At worst they don’t work at all and what you’ll end up with is a cracked and distorted mess. At best your project won’t crack or split, but it will still distort and the resulting object won’t be the same shape it was when it came off the lathe.
Now if you’re making simple bowls some distortion isn’t going to be a problem so you might be able to deal with it. But I like to make boxes or canisters or whatever you want to call them with fitted lids like the one over there on the right. For something like that any significant change in shape is going to result in a lid that doesn’t fit properly. That means I need to work with wood that is dry and stable to begin with.
But the wood I sometimes get is about as far from “dry and stable” as it can get. Yes, I buy kiln dried wood from commercial sources. But I also like to work with a lot of woods that I can’t get that way. Either the commercial sources sell it only as “processed green” and sealed in wax or anchorseal, or it’s wood I just picked up somewhere from someone trimming trees, or that I found at the town compost site. When I get something like that I have to figure out some way of drying it down to the point where it will be relatively stable. Just putting it on a shelf and letting it dry naturally will work. If I don’t mind waiting, oh, months, maybe years. Wood can take a long, long time to dry, especially something like a 5 inch thick slab.
I could build my own kiln or drying system. They aren’t that expensive or complicated to build and there are plans available all over the internet. Some of them look like they might work reasonably well. But I don’t really have room for something like that. Possibly I will build one in the future, but for the time being that is something I would like to avoid.
So now we come to the microwave. There are a lot of people out there on the internet that claim this works pretty slick if you do it right. But there are also almost as many people who claim that microwaving wood is a very bad idea and it can result in a complete disaster, including starting things like the wood, your microwave, and possibly your house, on fire. So I wanted to find out if microwaving wood really works as a way to reliably dry wood.
Microwave ovens are basically radio transmitters, with consumer microwaves operating at a frequency of around 2.45 GHz (gigaHertz). They work because the radio waves bombarding the object they are directed at cause the molecules of the object to rotate or vibrate, which generates heat. That is a very simplistic explanation but pretty close enough for this. But not all materials absorb this energy to the same degree. Water is very good at absorbing this energy, meaning it will generally heat up faster than other materials in the object in a process known as dielectric heating.
So I know that, theoretically at least, microwaving wood to help to dry it should work. In theory the water molecules in the wood will become warmer than the surrounding wood, causing it to force its way out of the wood fibers. Maybe. Emphasis on that last word: “Maybe”.
The problem with most of the videos and other sources you find on the internet is that they rarely provide you with any real quantitative data. With a lot of these guys they’re like “chuck it into the microwave and nuke it for X seconds (or minutes), then wait a while and do it again. If it starts on fire stop.” This doesn’t exactly give me enough information to get decent results. I decided to go about this in a more thoughtful way, measuring moisture content, weight, temperatures and other factors along the way so if I did get interesting results I could repeat the experiment, altering the parameters to try to get better results.
First I needed a microwave. I suspected MrsGF would not appreciate me using the one in the kitchen, so I went out and bought the cheapest decent microwave oven I could find. That cost me $70 including shipping. And to be honest, well, damn, this thing was nice. Nice fit and finish, stainless steel trim, stainless steel interior, lots and lots of options and one of those rotating turntable thingies inside, which I wanted because I figured rotating the wood while it was being nuked would help to prevent hotspots from developing in the wood. (How can they make an oven this nice, ship it all the way from China, sell it for $70 and still make money off it?) I almost felt guilty about using it for this. Almost.
Next is a wood moisture meter. These things used to be ridiculously expensive but prices have come down to where you can get a pin type moisture meter for around $25 – $35. I’m not going to go into the differences between pin and pinless models or how they work and all that. You can find that info yourself if you’re really curious. The one thing I do want to emphasize is that you shouldn’t trust these things too much. They tell you only what’s going on at or near the surface of the wood. The outside of the wood could indicate it has, oh, 5% moisture level, but just a short distance farther into that hunk of wood the moisture level could be significantly higher.
The best way to measure how much moisture a piece of wood has given up is with a scale. That’s how I keep track of wood I have drying naturally on the shelf. I periodically weigh it, the write down the weight and date. When it stops losing weight that means it has probably dried down to a point where I can consider actually using it. A decent scale isn’t that expensive. This one cost me $27 from Amazon. And it is surprisingly accurate. I used to repair and certify scales for commercial use and I still have my test weights, and this thing was accurate down to something like 0.001 of a gram. It can handle weights up to about 22 pounds according to the manual.
The next piece of equipment is a contactless thermometer because I want to measure how hot that piece of wood gets during this process, and, hopefully, keeping it from getting too hot and starting on fire. Mine is a Fluke but you can get brands that are a lot cheaper than that which will still work reasonably well, especially for something like this.
I want this for three reasons. First I’m going to be handling the wood that I put in that oven so I can weigh it and I want to measure the temperature before I grab the thing so I don’t end up in the ER with burned fingers. Second, I want to do everything I can to make sure that nothing starts on fire. I want to stop this immediately if the temperatures of the wood get too high. And third I want to measure the temperature of the wood at various stages of this process to see how much it heats up after specific periods of time being zapped in the oven.
The final piece of essential equipment is that fire extinguisher up there. Seriously. I’m about to chuck a piece of wood into a microwave oven. I don’t think it will start on fire, not if I am reasonably cautious. But it is far better to be prepared and have it ready to go rather than try to run and grab it after things start smoking.
Sidenote: You should have one, probably several, in any case. If you are a woodworker, you’re working with power tools with motors that can overheat, even produce sparks. You’re sharpening tools which can also produce sparks. So you have a variety of potential ignition sources scattered through your entire wood shop, which is also filled with wood, wood dust and wood shavings. So yes, you need a fire extinguisher. They aren’t that expensive. Buying a few extinguishers and having them located in convenient locations in your shop, garage and house is a hell of a lot cheaper than losing your shop, your garage or your house to a fire that you might have been able to prevent. End of rant.
The Test Subject
The final element in all of this is the wood. I want a chunk of wood that is typically sized. Most commercially available bowl blanks are about 6 inches square and 2 – 3 inches thick, so I needed one about that size. I also wanted a piece of wood I didn’t like very much. So I ended up with a block of cherry because it was the right size, was wet, and I don’t like cherry very much to begin with so if things went horribly, horribly wrong, which was a distinct possibility, I wouldn’t care too much. In hindsight cherry was probably not a good choice for this experiment. But I’ll get to that later. If I remember. (I probably won’t.)
The piece of wood I’m working with here is in the photo up above sitting on the scale. It’s approximately 6″ square and 3″ thick. It’s been sitting on the shelf for several months now and it’s pretty wet. You’ll note that it is coated in what looks like wax. If you buy wet/green wood from commercial vendors this is how it will come, coated in wax or Anchorseal to prevent it from drying too quickly and cracking. You’ll note that at the start of this it weighs 1,411 grams. That starting weight is important because how much weight it loses during this process will tell me how much moisture it has given off during this process.
I didn’t think that chucking a hunk of wood coated with wax into a microwave was a good idea so first I had to get that wax off. I did that with a hand plane. It was really messy and I had to stop to clean my plane several times but it wasn’t hard to do and only took a few minutes.
Once I did that I proceeded to microwave it, checking the temperature and weighing it after each step to see what happened.
I have to admit that this was a very tedious process. At first I only cooked it for 30 seconds at a time, but it quickly became apparent that wasn’t doing much. Eventually I started increasing the times up to 3-4 minutes. That length of time brought the temperature of the wood up to approximately 180 degrees. At that temperature the wood was uncomfortably warm to the touch, and it was obviously giving off moisture. Parts of the wood became visibly wet, indicating moisture was migrating from the inside of the wood to the outside surface. I kept going, keeping extensive notes about times, temperatures, weights and the visual appearance of the wood during the process. I won’t bore you with all of that data.
Now in hindsight I probably should have done this with more patience but dear lord this got boring fast. I didn’t want to take the wood up to a temperature higher than 180 because I could only measure the surface temperature of the wood and it was possible the interior was much hotter. So I let it cool down to about 80 – 90 degrees before repeating the process. This was possibly also a mistake in hindsight and I’ll tell you why at the end of this. After fiddling with this for a couple of hours I went and did something else until, well, until the next day when I realized I really needed to get back to work on this.
It gave off significant amounts of moisture. It was losing weight with almost every cycle in the oven. And finally it reached the point where it was no longer going down in weight when I put it on the scale. In total it lost almost 500 grams in weight, and the moisture meter registered 2% when I tested it.
So, the results. Did it actually work? Well, yes. Sort of. Microwaving it did indeed dry it down. It was by no means a fast process, but I was making tests and notes and doing other things in between and certainly could have wrapped this up a lot sooner if I hadn’t gotten bored and wandered off.
But there were issues. First there was cracking in the endgrain. That had started before I was even halfway through the process. I rather expected that, however. And the cracks seemed shallow and superficial. Once I started cutting the wood on the lathe I found that was indeed true, the endgrain cracks did not extend more than 1/2 inch into the wood. Endgrain is always a problem when it comes to wood. Even if you let the wood dry naturally there is going to be some cracking of the endgrain unless you resort to sealing the ends with Anchorseal or paint.
There was also considerable discoloration on the surface of the wood. But this was cherry. One of the reasons I don’t like cherry is that it often does get blotchy looking, so I had rather expected this to happen. And some of that discoloration was due to the fact some of the wax it had been sealed in had remained in the pores of the wood near the surface.
Also the block of wood was now distorted in shape as you can see in that photo up there. Still that isn’t going to be a real problem either because this is going to get turned into a bowl anyway.
The only way to see what’s going on inside of the wood is to put it on the lathe and start turning it. So here’s what I ended up with in the photo below
The wood was indeed dry and stable. But as you can see there was a problem. There three significant cracks in the wood running diagonally across the grain.
Does this mean the experiment was a failure? No. Not at all. In fact I’d consider this experiment successful. Or at least successful enough that I’m going to try it again in the future.
The wood did indeed get dried down to the point where it was stable. The sample bowl did have those three cracks, yes, but the resulting bowl has been sitting on the shelf now for three weeks now and shows no signs of warping, twisting or otherwise distorting. No new cracks have appeared, only those three. So the process did indeed take a wet piece of wood and dry it down in a relatively short period of time.
As for those three cracks, to be honest I’m not all that concerned about those. The wood could have had internal flaws to begin with. Or, more likely, I overheated the wood. When going back over my notes I see that twice the external temperature of the wood reached 190+ degrees during this. That means it is entirely likely that internally the temperature could have been well over the boiling point of water which means that pockets of steam were being produced inside of the wood which could have caused enough stress to crack the wood. I was also allowing the wood to cool down during the process. That heating and cooling cycle almost certainly was introducing stresses into the wood that could have caused problems.
I’m actually pleased and encouraged by the results of this. There are still a lot of variables to take into consideration. What would happen if I used the “defrost” cycle on the oven for an extended period of time rather than just nuking it at full power? Would that result in a more gentle process that wouldn’t put as much stress on the wood?
What if I tried to maintain a stable temperature, say 150 degrees, rather than letting it cool down between cycles? That also would result in less stress on the wood and might have prevented those three cracks from developing.
Overall I’m very encouraged by the results and I’m probably going to try this again. But I need to make better notes, have more patience and do it in a more methodical fashion to make it easier to get easily reproducible results. If I do it again I’ll keep you posted.
Meanwhile, if you want to try this yourself, do I need to tell you to be very, very careful? From some of the things I’ve seen on the internet it appears to be very easy for this kind of thing to go bad very quickly.
(Someone told me I should mention the email address here for people who have questions or comments and don’t want to leave them in the public comment section. It is old.grouchyfarmer.@gmail.com, or, of course you can use the comments section. I only check that account once a week or two so it may be a while before you get a response that way.)
I’ve been getting some questions about wood and woodturning, specifically about what types or species of wood work best, give the best results, what different species are like to work with, how to get wood, how to deal with wet or green wood and other things, so I thought it might be helpful to talk about wood itself. I’m going to write a couple of pieces about wood, starting with what it’s like to work with different species of wood. I’m going to stick with commercially available wood bowl blanks for this bit because if you’re new to this, that is probably what you’ll be working with, bowl blanks you pick up off Amazon or directly from a wood vendor.
Now I come from a furniture making background. When making a piece of furniture I am making an object that not only needs to look good, it needs to have considerable structural integrity. The wood needs to be strong enough to be able to deal with the stresses of being a functional chair or table or bookcase or whatever item I’m making. This limits the kind of woods I am able to use in a project.
But structural integrity isn’t an issue with wood turning. I’m concerned almost entirely with appearance on that situation. The projects I crank out don’t require structural strength. Even a plain, utilitarian bowl doesn’t need a lot of strength, it just needs to hold together and look good. So when selecting wood for a bowl, especially one that is intended to be primarily decorative, the things I’d worry about when selecting wood for furniture don’t really matter to me. All I really care about is appearance. And with turned objects, things that would be considered defects in furniture grade wood can actually make interesting decorative features in a turned object. A lot of woods that would be horrible for furniture work very well for wood turning and can result in some beautiful artistic pieces.
I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to work with a wide variety of different woods ranging from the common to the exotic, so here, in no particular order here are the woods I typically work with and why I like or dislike them, along with some samples of a finished projects with that wood to show you what it looks like. If you’re new to this you’re probably going to be buying pre-made bowl blanks online from Amazon or some other retailer, so I’ll include info on what this stuff can cost if you buy it commercially. Some of these photos have appeared before, some are new.
Black Walnut – I’m going to start with my absolute favorite wood to work with, walnut. I love working with walnut. Generally it cuts easily on the lathe with either traditional steel or carbide tools. It is easy to shape, easy to sand. I think the color and grain is beautiful. It can range from a deep, rich chocolate brown to a beautiful, almost iridescent brownish gold depending on how it is cut and finished. It will handle just about any kind of finish you want to use on it, from a low gloss satin to an ultra high polish. Either will work well with this wood. I’ve used waxes, spray lacquers, OB shine juice, bees wax and even just plain shellac and have had good results with all of them. If it gets dull looking all it takes is a quick buffing or polish to bring back the luster.
It is commonly available either kiln dried or green. Cost isn’t too bad either. Prices on wood vary all the time depending on market conditions, of course. A decent sized bowl blank about 6″ square and 2″ thick is going for about $7 – $12 each right now if you shop around. Thicker pieces… Well, prices go uprather quickly as the wood gets thicker. All things considered walnut a darn nice wood to work with and prices are generally reasonable.
Side note: A lot of places are selling green wood, not dried. I’ll talk about that later in more detail. But here’s a hint – if you’re new at this, avoid green/wet wood. Stick with kiln dried at first. Learn the basic skills first, then worry about how to deal with green wood. Some people like to work with green wood, I don’t. It requires lengthy drying times, is subject to warping and cracking and has other problems. I’ll deal with green/wet wood in a later post.
Padauk – Since that piece up there includes padauk, let’s go with that one next. It’s imported from Africa. It is a very striking wood, especially when freshly cut. Color ranges from red to brilliant orange, with the grain showing up as darker, brownish and in some cases almost black stripes. The first time I saw a piece of this I couldn’t believe it was real. As it ages the brilliant color begins to fade. It will eventually fade into a somewhat duller, reddish brown, even chocolate hue, sometimes even fading into gray. It will still be a beautiful piece of wood, it’s just that the colors change over time. How quickly do they fade? It depends. A good finish seems to help slow down the color changes, but nothing will really stop it.
As for working with it, it’s great stuff to work with. It machines about the same as walnut. It cuts easily, although you may need to sharpen your tools a bit more often than with some woods. It sands easily, but use a dust extraction system. The dust will get everywhere if you don’t, leaving a fine, red film over everything. For finishes, all I’ve used with it so far is a thin seal coat of shellac followed by buffing carnauba wax onto it to get a high gloss. It’s imported from Africa and is available kiln dried only. (Generally speaking wood imported into this country must be kiln dried to prevent pests and diseases from getting into the U.S.)
It isn’t cheap though, typically going for 2 – 3 times the cost of walnut. A 6″ square by 2″ thick piece of padauk is currently going for around $30.
White Oak – You wouldn’t normally think of white oak as being all that suitable for wood turning. But in a lot of cases you use what you got, and I have a lot of white oak cut offs from larger boards that were used in furniture projects. The stuff was too nice to just throw out or burn, but what can you do with 1″ thick boards of random short lengths and widths?
Glue it up into bowl blanks, of course. So I glued a few 1″ thick board scraps together into a 4 inch thick bowl blank and gave it a try and, well, damn… The results weren’t utterly horrible? I stained it to bring out the grain, finished it with a sealer and top coat of wax and it turned out as a decent little bowl. I made an even bigger one, almost 11 inches across and about 4 inches tall which was an absolute beast to work with on my midi sized lathe, but that worked out reasonably well too and I ended up with a pretty nice fruit bowl with rather striking grain patterns brought out by the stain.
It was not easy to work with, though. White oak is very hard, dulls tools quickly, and can be prone to chipping, especially if it is really, really dry, as this stuff is. White oak is one of the few woods where I used carbide tools almost exclusively because my steel gouges were dulled within just a couple of minutes and I was getting tired of running over to the grinder every little while. Once I switched to carbide it went better, but it was still a relatively slow process. Sanding wasn’t a lot of fun either.
(Which is possibly why it seems nearly impossible to find white oak bowl blanks on the commercial market? At least I haven’t seen any. )
Ash – Go read the comments about oak again but replace “oak” with “ash” and that pretty much describes it. Ash seems to be just a wee bit more forgiving than oak. I can generally work it without having to resort to using carbide tools. Certainly it has a nicer color, or at least I think so. But like oak it can be pretty bland looking, so you might want to experiment with stains. And wood suppliers who carry bowl blanks seem to frequently have it in stock at fairly reasonable prices. Mostly I’ve seen blanks offered as green wood, but I do see kiln dried stuff available from time to time. Alas, while I’ve made some projects with ash I don’t have photos of any.
(Sidenote: In some areas there is a glut of ash on the market because of infestations of the emerald ash borer, which is decimating the ash tree population all over the country. In a lot of places it is illegal to transport ash wood into or out of certain areas to try to restrict the spread of the beetle and the disease it carries. These restrictions generally don’t apply to kiln dried ash because the kiln generates enough heat to kill the borers. I’ve seen a few vendors offering “green” ash wood. This is possibly illegal in some jurisdictions.)
Red Cedar – I really, really like working with cedar. It’s a soft wood, cuts beautifully on the lathe, and wow, does it smell amazing! It sands easily to a smooth surface, is easy to finish to a brilliant shine. I used OB shine juice on this one. Personally I think the grain and colors are absolutely beautiful but some people don’t like it for some reason. Colors can vary wildly, even in the same piece of wood, as you can see, ranging from a deep chocolate brown, to rich purplish reds, to golden yellows. It’s widely available, and if you live in the right part of the country you might be able to source it locally and save yourself a considerable amount of money.
Cedar does have some issues. It can often have “defects”, knots, inclusions, wild grain, but personally I think that adds to the beauty, like that unexpected knot I discovered in this piece as I was hollowing it out. To me that knot and the wild grain surrounding it makes the piece far more interesting than if had been just plain wood. But because it’s a soft wood, it’s easy to damage a finished piece.
Prices on cedar are pretty reasonable if you can find it. Not every wood seller seems to carry it. My main source for pre cut cedar bowl blanks is Green Valley Wood Products in Indiana and they’re running 6″ square 3″ thick cedar blanks at about 4 for $39.95, or about $10 each. They are green, not dried, but when it comes to cedar I’ve never really had problems with working with green cedar.
Mahogany – Mahogany is, well, complicated. Some mahogany is mahogany, some mahogany isn’t… Heck, I don’t know. I do like the stuff, though. Maybe. Sort of. Kinda. Certainly it can be a very pretty wood that can take on a brilliant iridescence when the light hits it just right. It can glimmer and shimmer. But in order to get that shimmer and iridescence you have to have exactly the right piece of wood and have to do exactly the right things to it.
I honestly have sort of a love/hate relationship with mahogany. I’ve built furniture out of the stuff and frankly I didn’t like it that much. I didn’t think it looked all that good and it can be surprisingly soft and easy to damage when used in furniture. It isn’t difficult to work with, but it seems to produce a very fine dust that clings to anything and everything. It seems to dull my tools quickly. For whatever reason carbide tools don’t seem to work very well at all with this stuff. When I try using carbide I get lots of catches, gouges and tearout. So I stick with traditional bowl gouges, scrapers and skews when I’m working with it. And I sharpen them a lot. And while they claim it’s a hardwood, it sure doesn’t behave like one. It’s relatively soft, it is easy to get dings and dents in finished pieces. I ended up somehow with a 15″ square, 5″ thick hunk of the stuff that I into a fruit bowl that looked nice for, oh, about 10 minutes. Oh, it’s a perfectly good utility bowl, and that’s what we use it for, but it sure didn’t stay looking good for very long. But every once in a while a piece like this below comes off the lathe, and and I start to want to work with it again.
This is a mahogany and walnut canister or box or jar or whatever you want to call it. About 5″ wide and 10″ or so tall, and it turned out way better than it had any right to. (The crappy camera in my iPhone doesn’t do this justice. I don’t care what the reviewers claim about the iPhone camera, it’s garbage, especially when it comes to rendering color.)
Back to mahogany, though. It’s decent wood, it can be very pretty. It isn’t all that difficult to work with, but it does have some issues. Prices for dried, pre-cut bowl blanks are generally a bit higher than walnut, depending on where it is sourced from. Right now it’s going for about $11 – $13 for a typically sized 6″ square 2″ thick precut bowl blank. It should be provided kiln dried, not green, because all of it is imported.
Hickory/Chestnut – Okay, I’m going to make a confession here. I’m not sure if that bowl over there on the right is hickory, or the one on the bottom is hickory. I’m not even sure if that is what they actually were, to be honest because I’d never worked with either before I got my hands on these two pieces of wood. That’s what they were labeled when I pulled them off the shelf, though, so we’ll go with that. My experience with these two is extremely limited. Still the results for both were good and I wouldn’t hesitate to use it again if I could get my hands on the stuff. Both were hard, about the same working characteristics as ash, but with a much more striking grain. And the one above had some beautiful coloring and inclusions. Once I saw how nice the grain was, I kept the shapes simple and tried to cut them to show off the wood.
I wish I could remember where I got these two pieces of wood and what they cost so I could give you more info because the wood was really nice.
Rosewood – Rosewood is amazingly beautiful. It has a rich, lush, chocolate color with a lighter colored, reddish brown streaks, and can include wider bands of lighter reds.
I see the stuff for sale all the time, but only in small pieces suitable for ornaments and pens. I’d never seen the stuff in larger pieces suitable for making bowls or larger decorative objects like I’m interested in making until I ran across these three pieces. One was about 4″ square by 3″ thick and the other two were about 6″ or 7″ square by 3″ thick. I’d never seen it in pieces that large before. The reason why is simple. Holy cow the stuff is expensive! I probably shouldn’t have blown that much money on these three pieces of wood because as it turned out I had serious problems with all three, but I’ll come to that in a minute.
The stuff works pretty nicely. It cuts well, sands well, looks especially good with a high gloss finish. I think the coloration and grain is absolutely beautiful. It doesn’t show up well in the photo but that larger piece has a beautiful band of a lighter, red tint running through it horizontally that really adds interest to the piece. I can see why penmakers like it so much, the stuff is beautiful.
Drawbacks? You bet. Some serious.
First, it stinks. It literally stinks. To me it smells like sewage. Seriously. The aroma isn’t overpowering but it is definitely there and it is unpleasant. Once it has a finish on it it’s barely perceptible. MrsGF can’t smell it at all, thankfully. I’ve worked with three pieces of this stuff and all three smelled really bad. It is also oily. It left an oily, dark brown residue on my tools and lathe while I was working with it. Nothing serious, but I couldn’t just vacuum it up, I had to wipe everything down when I was done.
The real deal killer, though, is that all three of the pieces I made have developed what I call micro-cracks, very thin, hairline cracks that aren’t noticeable at first and may have developed days or even weeks after I’d finished the bowls. If you look closely at the bowl in the top photo you’ll see what look like scratches. They aren’t, they’re micro-cracks that developed after they’d been finished. The wood should have been stable, they were kiln dried and the moisture content was low, the bowls haven’t warped or distorted to indicate there is some issue with stress going on. But it’s obvious that something is going on with that wood.
So, to sum up rosewood: The wood may be absolutely beautiful. It may cut and finish nicely. But based on my experience with these three pieces I can’t recommend it. It’s expensive. Really expensive. Those three little blocks of wood I used were well over $50 each. I’m going to do some experimenting to see if I can make the cracks less visible, but I’m still disappointed. If I were doing this commercially I would consider all three of the rosewood projects to be unsellable because of the cracking.
There are a whole cluster of woods that can be classified as ‘maple’, ranging from very hard versions suitable for flooring, other types suitable for furniture, and even very soft types that aren’t useful for much of anything except maybe firewood. I’m going to stick with the one that most woodturners are probably interested in, so-called ambrosia maple. Ambrosia maple isn’t a separate type of maple, it’s standard maple that has been infected with a fungus carried by the ambrosia beetle. The beetles bore into the wood, carrying the fungus into the wood. The fungus causes spectacular staining and discoloration similar to spalted maple. The discoloration is generally centered around the path the beetle bores through the wood. You’ll almost always find holes in ambrosia maple that were made by the beetles.
(Spalted maple and other spalted woods also exhibit similar colorations which is also caused by a fungus, but in the case of spalted woods the fungus is part of the decaying process and you can also find parts of wood that are literally rotting away inside of a piece of spalted lumber.)
Ambrosia maple is generally very easy to work with. It is usually relatively soft, cuts easily, and the end result can be spectacular. Prices are a bit steep, about the same as padauk. If you shop around you can sometimes find some real deals on the stuff if you’re willing to deal with green wood. A single 6″ square by 3″ thick bowl blank will set you back about $20 – $25, green. Larger size blanks get expensive real fast. If you remember the cake platter I made for MrsGF that top piece which started out at about 13″ square and 2″ thick cost me about $75.
Potential problems? It’s generally soft and easy to damage. You can sometimes find “punky” (i.e. rotting) areas buried in pieces. And you have to remember that the discoloration is caused by a fungus, so chances are good there are fungal spores lurking in that wood. Now I’ve never heard of anyone getting actually ill or getting a fungal infection from working with this stuff, but I would always wear a respirator when cutting or sanding it, along with a dust extraction system and air filtration system.
Sapele – I’ve only worked with this stuff once and it was such a disaster that I gave up and chucked it into the burn pile.
Catches, gouges, tear outs, chipping, kick backs… It was horrible to work with. It didn’t matter what tools I used, what techniques I used, how sharp the tools were, whether I used carbide or steel – nothing worked right with this stuff. I don’t know what the heck was going on with that piece of wood but it became obvious real fast that it wasn’t just bad, it was downright dangerous. It is entirely possible that it was just some quirk with that piece of wood I had. Don’t care. My experience with it was so bad that I’m never going to work with it again. There are more than enough other species of wood that are actually pleasant to work with, so I’m not going to risk it again.
If you want to try it, fine. Maybe you’ll have better luck than I did. The stuff is going for about $15 for a kiln dried 6″ square, 2″ thick blank.
Cotton wood – I’ve only worked with this stuff once, and the piece I had was really large and very, very wet. I mean seriously wet. Since I didn’t want to wait for, oh, three or four years for it to dry out, I went ahead and roughed out a bowl shape and stuck it on the shelf for a few weeks to dry. Frankly I fully expected it to crack and warp horribly, but surprisingly it didn’t and the end result was pretty darn nice. Fairly nice grain and the color isn’t bad either.
But stink? Holy cow this thing smelled bad when I was working with it. It was worse than the rosewood. It had a sort of pungent vinegary, swampy, rotten kind of smell to it that even came through the respirator. Fortunately once it dried the smell went away but wow, it almost made my eyes water while I was working on it.
I rather liked working with it. Surprisingly it didn’t warp or crack while the roughed out bowl dried down, and when I finished it up after it had dried down to a reasonable point I ended up with a fairly nice bowl. It cut well, sanded well. I finished it off with a seal coat of shellac topped off with homemade “ob shine juice” and it turned out a pretty decent looking utility bowl.
Cotton wood is fairly cheap. I see Green Valley is selling it for under $10 for a 6″ square, 3″ thick bowl blank, green. It can often be found at reasonable prices for much larger pieces suitable for larger bowls like salad or fruit bowls. The drawback is that it is almost always sold green, so you’re going to have to deal with trying to dry it down yourself.
Pear – The only pear wood I’ve worked with comes from the wood I saved when we took down the pear tree here. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it for sale commercially. But if you know someone who is taking down a pear tree it’s worth looking into getting your hands on some of it.
It cuts well, sands well, and was very easy to work with all the way around. The little bud vase over there on the right was sanded up to about 320 grit, then sealed with shellac, buffed out with OOOO steel wool, then finished with carnauba wax.
Personally I think it’s a bit on the bland side and I’m not sure if I really like the color. MrsGF likes it a lot though. Anyway, if you can get your hands on some, give it a try. It’s worth looking at, especially if you can get it for free from a neighbor taking down a tree.
Cherry – You’ll find a lot of cherry bowl blanks for sale commercially. It seems popular with woodturners and I’m not sure why. I’ve worked with it and I don’t like it all that much. Oh, there’s nothing wrong with it. It is easy to work with. It cuts and sands well, easy to shape into just about anything you like, and it isn’t all that expensive, about the same as walnut.
So why don’t I like it? Dear lord, it’s boring! If I’m going to go to the trouble of making something on the lathe I want the end result to be eye catching. I want prominent grain patterns and interesting colors. And cherry is, well, it’s just dull to my eye. The color is blah, the grain is blah. Insipid, that’s the term I’m looking for. Perhaps it’s just the pieces I had. Every piece of wood is different, after all. Maybe I’ll try it again. I have a half dozen blanks sitting on the shelf still, but I’m going to have to be awfully bored before I resort to using it again.
Cost is about the same as walnut, around $10 – $13 for a standard 6″ square 2″ thick blank. It’s not a bad wood. It’s not real expensive. As I said it is very nice to work with. It’s just, well, dull.
Elm – I’m going to be completely honest and admit I have no idea what elm wood looks like so I can’t be sure if this is elm or not. It came with a shipment of “miscellaneous bowl blanks”, a sort of grab bag kind of deal. It was labeled elm so I’m going to go with that. Elm was almost completely wiped out in North America because of dutch elm disease, but there are still some out there and occasionally it shows up.
I worked this blank while it was wet, which is normally something I don’t do, and there was some issues while drying the bowl down but nothing too serious. It was easy to work with. It seemed a bit on the abrasive side and I had to sharpen my gouge more often than normal, but nothing serious. It has a very striking grain, with dark brown and black streaks running along with the normal grain making me think this tree had some kind of fungal infection. Personally I don’t like how it looks, but MrsGF likes it. As for cost, I don’t really know. It was in a grab bag deal with a bunch of other chunks of wood.
Holy cow, this got long, so let’s wrap up this part up. There are more types of wood I could have looked at but I wanted to stick with the types that are generally available commercially.
Eventually I’m going to get around to talking about the difference between kiln dried, air dried and wet/green wood, and how to deal with it, why some woodturners really like wet wood (I suspect they’ve been inhaling lacquer fumes), how to dry wood, including the “great microwave experiment”. Well, if I don’t start something on fire or blow something up. I’m stocking up on fire extinguishers for that one. Also how one man’s defect is another man’s “decorative feature”, working with epoxy as a decorative element, playing with india ink and whatever else I can come up with.
… wait a minute, how did a blog about gardening, farming, photographing flowers, travel and ham radio turn into a tutorial on wood turning?
On the pandemic front, MrsGF got her first vaccination last week and I’m getting my first one this week! Wow, maybe we’ll actually be able to hug our kids by summer?
I forgot one item when I looked at the tools I’d picked up during 2020, and that’s the Oneida “Dust Deputy” in the photo over there on the left. It helps to deal with an ever present problem for anyone who works with wood, the dust and debris generated by woodworking.
In an ideal world we’d all have professional quality dust collection systems. But those things are big, expensive, etc. Not all of us have the space or the money to set one of these up, so a lot of us end up using a good old fashioned shop vac as our primary dust/debris collection system. Modern, good quality shop vacs can be almost as efficient at removing dust and debris as a traditional dust collection system, although they don’t have the capacity to keep up with some tools like planers and jointers. It all depends on the power of the motor, the CFM (cubic feet per minute air movement) and the filtration system the vac uses. The biggest drawbacks are that the vacs are (usually) very loud, have to be moved around the shop to be hooked up to individual pieces of equipment, and have to be emptied very frequently. Lugging my big 16 gallon sized shop vac up and down a flight of stairs to get it in and out of the house in order to empty it is not fun.
This Dirt Deputy gadget and similar devices have been around for a long time, but I’ve never been that interested in them before because A) I wasn’t making that much dust and debris before now, and B) I figured that like a lot of things that sounded too good to be true, it was, well, too good to be true. But wood turning generates massive amounts of dust and wood shavings, far more than making furniture did. So not only was I lugging that big vac up and down the stairs all the time, I was going through filters like crazy. No matter how good of a job you may do blowing out or cleaning that filter, you can’t get it completely clean and eventually it will get plugged up to the point it won’t pass enough air to permit the vac to work. So I decided to try this thing.
The basic idea behind these things has been around for a long time. You hook the shop vac up to the outlet on top, hook your hose to the lower outlet, slap it on top of a standard 5 gallon bucket, and that’s it. As the air (and dirt) whirls around inside of the funnel shaped thing, the dust and shavings and other debris end up falling down into the bucket instead of getting sucked into your vac.
As I said I was skeptical of this thing, but the darned thing actually works, and works pretty well. Even fine dust seems to settle into the bucket instead of ending up in the vacuum. Instead of having to lug the whole vac up the stairs and out to the garage I can just carry the bucket. But the biggest hope I had was that this would save me money. Those big cartridge filters on my shop vac are expensive. About three of those filters would pay for this whole Dust Deputy thing, so it could potentially save me a lot of $$. And it does. This thing has already paid for itself in the two months or so I’ve had it. I’m really quite pleased with it.
Are there drawbacks to it? Sure. There always are with things like this. The biggest drawback in this case is a reduction in suction power, which makes sense. You’re adding several feet of air hose, the Deputy itself, possible air leaks, etc, into the system. So that all restricts air flow and reduces the amount of vacuum power. In my case, my big vac, which could keep up with my thickness planer without the Deputy installed, can no longer handle my DeWalt planer with the Deputy. That’s not a big deal, though. I don’t use the planer all that often these days and when I do need it I simply hook the vac up to it direct and bypass the Deputy.
So, what’s this thing cost? Oneida will gleefully sell you a whole “kit” for about $100+ which includes the Deputy wind tunnel swirly thingie, the bucket lid it attaches to, a short hose to hook to your vac, some hose clamps, a 2nd bucket that the first bucket nests into, and little wheels to bolt to the outer bucket to make it easier to lug around and the instructions tell you to drill holes through the side of your vacuum and bolt the 2nd bucket to your vac for some reason and, well, don’t. You don’t need the 2nd bucket, you don’t need the wheels, you don’t need the hose clamps (if your existing hoses don’t fit perfectly, you can always resort to duct tape, that’s what I did), you don’t need any of that stuff. Basically they’re charging you $50 for a couple of buckets you can probably get free and $10 of hardware. If you want to try one of these, get the “basic” kit.
The basic kit goes for about $50 without the wheels, the buckets and all the other guff, and that’s all you need. It comes with the cyclone thing, some bolts and a gasket. That’s it. You get your own 5 gallon bucket with a lid (probably free). Cut a hole in the lid, screw the cyclone thing to it, and use your own hoses and clamps. If you need more hose or clamps you can get everything you need at the local home improvement store.
The way things look right now, this thing is going to save me easily going to save me money on filters.
I found a vendor on Amazon that was selling large blocks of Indian rosewood. It was actually not all that expensive and I’d never worked with it before so i got a couple of blocks just to see what it was like. I picked up two pieces, about 6 inches square and 3 inches thick. I think I paid about $30 each for the two pieces. That may seem like a lot but that’s actually pretty reasonable for this stuff on the commercial market. If you want good quality imported woods, you’re going to pay for it. Rosewood is really popular with the pen turning people. I see a lot of places selling rosewood blanks sized for pen makers, but almost never see large pieces big enough to make bowls.
As you can (hopefully) see in that photo over there the wood is absolutely beautiful once it’s sanded and finished. And it just feels nice to the touch. Whenever I walk past that bowl I find myself running my fingers over it. I can see why pen turners like this stuff. It is a bit messy, though. I don’t know if it was just the pieces I got or if it is normal, but the stuff seemed really oily, with the dust clinging to my tools (and me). It machined beautifully, though. No problems with catches or snags or weird tear outs or anything like that, and it even sanded down beautifully. And it polishes up to a beautiful luster.
But the smell… Now I’m one of those weird people who are classified as a “super smeller”. I have a ridiculously sensitive sense of smell (and taste, for that matter). To me this stuff has a very distinctive aroma that vaguely resembles, well, poo, to be blunt. MrsGF can’t smell it at all. After putting a finish on the bowl the smell diminished greatly, but I can still smell it when I get within a couple of feet of it. I wondered if maybe it was just that one block of wood, but the second one smelled just like the first.
I like this rosewood stuff, but… There are problems. I’m seeing what I suppose you could call micro-cracks in the wood, very fine, almost invisible cracks that I can’t see unless I get within a foot or two of the bowls. I’m rather concerned about that because I have no idea why they are there. I need to take a closer look at this and figure out what happened. Wood is, well, wood. It moves, absorbs and gives off moisture, swells, contracts. It’s all part of the challenges of working with the stuff. I generally know what happened when a piece of wood cracks or warps, but I’m not sure what’s going on here. MrsGF is encouraging me to start trying to sell some of this stuff, but I don’t want to end up with people complaining about something like this so I want to figure out what went wrong before I turn out more stuff in rosewood.
Let’s see, what else…
Oh, the pear tree – I saved a lot of the wood from the pear tree when we took it down last year after it collapsed with the intention of possibly using it for various projects. I got curious about how it would look and work so I grabbed a bit that seemed reasonably dry and ended up with this small vase.
The stuff machines nicely, sands well and looks fairly good once it’s finished. It seems to be prone to cracking. You can’t see it in this photo but on the backside of that thing there is a vertical crack running almost the entire length of the vase that’s sealed up with epoxy. Still the results are encouraging and I’m going to keep fiddling with this stuff as I get time.
As I said, MrsGF and a few other people are telling me I need to try selling some of the stuff I’ve been cranking out so they’re pushing me to set up a shop on Etsy. Sigh… I don’t really want to get involved in all of that guff, but I do see their point. If I keep this up much longer I’ll have to rent a storage unit somewhere just to store the projects I’ve been cranking out.
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 (email@example.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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
Egads, it’s been a while since I did one of these, isn’t it? This time of year as the weather gets colder it’s tempting to just hunker down in my warm radio room and play with radios and computers and stuff instead of doing something useful. But stuff has been getting done, things have been going on and, well, let’s start at the beginning.
I don’t know if I mentioned the plate before, and I’m too lazy to go back through the archives to check, but I got MrsGF’s cake plate done finally. It’s hard to judge size in these photos so to give you an idea of size the top plate is about 11″ across and it stands about 5″ high. It’s made of ambrosia maple, finished with shellac and carnauba wax so it’s a food safe surface. I think it turned out reasonably well.
The base and spindle are made out of packing material. I ordered a bunch of wood from a company called Green Valley Wood Products and the wood didn’t quite fit into the box so they chucked in some rough cut pieces of wood as packing material that turned out to be some rather nice ambrosia maple once I cleaned it up. The stuff didn’t look like it was very good at first but I trimmed it up on the bandsaw and discovered there was enough there to make the base and spindle.
I should probably have mentioned Green Valley before. I’ve bought several hundred bucks worth of wood from these guys over the past few months and it has all been excellent quality and the prices are reasonable. Anyway, here’s a shameless plug – If you’re looking for wood, check out Green Valley Wood Products, Brazil IN. I don’t get free wood or get paid by them or anything like that, I just like the quality of their wood, shipping times are reasonable and the prices are fair.
The new air filtration system seems to be doing it’s job quite well. As you can see from the dirt on the filter up there it’s pulling stuff out of the air. It’s hard for me to tell exactly how well it’s working because I don’t have any way of testing particulate content in the air around here, but it seems there is a lot less dust through the whole house since I started using it.
Is it any better than something like this Rube Goldberg thing over there on the left? Heck, I don’t know. Taping a furnace filter to a box fan does help pull stuff out of the air, but how effective it really is… Well, judging from the amount of dust I saw in the rest of the basement when I was doing things like this, it doesn’t work all that well. The volume of air being moved through this thing isn’t anywhere near as great as what the Shopfox thing pulls through its system. At a rough guess I’d say the Shopfox moves 5 times as much air through its filters as the box fan does. That’s just a rough guess, of course, based on the air movement I feel. I don’t have any way to actually measure CFM.
Let’s see, what else? Ah, how could I forget about the Schrodinger’s microwave fiasco? I call it Schrodinger’s microwave because it seems to both exist and not exist, at the same time.
So, let’s start at the beginning. Last year we had to buy a new microwave oven. We ended up getting a Maytag, the one in the photo over there on the right. And it’s a very nice microwave. A bit pricey, but it’s well made and works very well indeed. We really like the thing. The problem is that this model doesn’t seem to actually exist.
We needed to replace the filters in this thing. MrsGF went out on the internet and started scrounging around looking for replacement filters. And couldn’t find any. In fact, she couldn’t even find this oven.
You’re kidding, said I. You must have typed the model number in wrong or overlooked something. Ah, said she, if you’re so smart, you go try to find it. Okay, said I, I will.
She was right. None of the parts vendors on Amazon list this model. None of the parts vendors outside of Amazon list this model. I went directly to Maytag. Maytag itself didn’t have this model in its database. Apparently we bought a microwave that doesn’t actually exist???
I took a closer look at the tag with the manufacturing data on it, including the date it was made and…
Well, that was interesting. Apparently this oven was manufactured three months afterwe bought it. Okay… Well, I ruled out the possibility that somehow this thing slipped through some crack in the spacetime continuum from some alternate universe or that the guy who actually installed it was Dr. Who or that it was some kind of quantum oven that both existed and didn’t exist at the same time. So what was going on? Some kind of counterfeit perhaps? It does happen. There are companies out there that gleefully rip off name brand manufacturers all the time. But that didn’t make sense. This thing is extremely good quality. Everything about it is rock solid, made to perfect tolerances, made of high quality materials, the fit and finish is flawless, it works beautifully. If this thing is a counterfeit they’re making products of better quality than most of the name brand stuff out there. So that didn’t make any sense.
Anyway, eventually I did find a filter, but by searching on the filter dimensions instead of models or brands. The one I found was actually for a Whirlpool. Of course it is entirely possible that this is a Whirlpool, or, rather, made by some OEM in China that makes ovens for two or more different companies and the only difference between them is the brand name. That kind of thing happens all the time in most industries. The name you see on the product isn’t the company that actually made it. Heck, the Ford truck I had many years ago was actually made in Canada by Mazda.
Farmers Getting Screwed Again?
Yeah, it seems so. Here’s the deal – Farmers who sold their milk to the now bankrupt Dean Foods are getting letters from lawyers demanding the farmers repay the money they were paid for milk they shipped to Dean during the “preference period” of the bankruptcy. Supposedly these parasites can go back 90 days and demand the farmers repay the money Dean paid them. Will the farmers then get their milk back or something? Of course not. Is it ethical? Good lord no! Ethically speaking this is flat out extortion. Is this legal? Apparently it is. It’s called a Trustee Avoidance Claim. But in actual fact most, if not all of the farmers who dealt with Dean who are receiving demands like this qualify for an exemption and can avoid having to repay anything. But the trustees, of course, hope the farmers don’t know this and will just cough up the money. As Roger McEowen of Washburn University said, “These are extortion letters, there’s no other way to put it. They’re seeing what they can get.”
But if you get one of these letters, you’re going to have to get your own lawyer to respond properly, so you’re going to have to foot the bill for that. Still, hiring a lawyer is going to cost a lot less than having to potentially repay tens of thousands of dollars to these parasites.
I mentioned that I needed to do something about the dust getting into the rest of the house and ordered an air filtration system made by ShopFox. It arrived on Saturday and I have it set up in the shop now. So far it looks pretty good, but I haven’t done any serious sanding or wood turning yet, so we’ll see just how well it actually works once I get a new project started.
If you go shopping for one of these don’t let the hype in the advertising fool you. All these things are is a box with a fan and motor, with one or more filters in it. How well these things work is entirely dependent on the filters used and how much air the fans pull through the filters. And that’s it. Everything else is just fluff and nonsense you don’t need.
This one looks fairly robust. The outer case is sheet steel, looks well made, nice fit and finish to it. It has a 3 speed fan that looks like it should be more than capable of handling the size room it will be in. The only other control is a timer so you can set it to turn itself off after 1, 2 or 3 hours. It came fully assembled, with the filters already installed. I just took it out of the packing material, took it out of the plastic bag and turned it on. And supposedly the filters are cleanable/washable and can be reused. So we’ll see about that.
Anyway, I’ll keep you updated about how well it works and if it does a better job than the makeshift furnace filter taped to a box fan trick. Considering how much dust I generate when I’m sanding I may end up using both the Shopfox filter and the box fan trick.
A New Finish Experiment
I’m always looking for ways to finish wood that improves its appearance and that is easy to use. I’m also addicted to Youtube (sigh… the hours I’ve wasted there…) and learned about something called “OB Shine Juice”, some kind of miraculous, easy to use, virtually instant finish you just slap on and buff out and…
But like most of these “tricks”, it turns out that in real life, no, it’s not that easy to use, at least not any easier than most of the other methods I’ve used. And while it might be useful for somethings it isn’t some kind of miraculous super finish. And it has some serious drawbacks including the fact that it is potentially dangerous. The danger is slight, true, but it’s still there, and I’ll talk about that at the end of this segment. Is it useful? In some cases, yes. But it isn’t going to replace my usual finishing methods.
You can’t buy this stuff, you have to make it, but there are only 3 ingredients and all are easily available and fairly cheap. Boiled linseed oil, shellac (most of the recipes call specifically for Zinsser shellac apparently because Zinsser seems to be the only company that still makes the stuff) and denatured alcohol. Just chuck equal parts of each into a bottle, shake it up, and there you go.
I didn’t have Zinsser’s on the shelf because I make my own shellac. I could have used my own but most of the recipes for this stuff called for Zinsser specifically, and I wanted to stick with the instructions exactly for this test. I ran down to the local hardware store and found some and scurried home with my prize.
Right off the bat I started to have doubts about all of this because as soon as I opened that can I began frowning.
Now the shellac I make is in that photo over there on the left, almost completely clear, no cloudiness, a nice golden amber color that dries clear and almost colorless, and the only thing you can smell when you open that jar is the alcohol. I’ve said before that I really, really like shellac. It’s a great sealer, sanding sealer, and even makes a pretty darn good final finish if you use one of the thicker cuts. So I figured the commercial stuff would look pretty much like what’s in that jar.
I was wrong. When I opened that can of Zinsser’s… Oh dear. This stuff was just nasty. I mean seriously nasty. Thick, cloudy, even muddy looking. And it smelled just as nasty as it looked. First thing I thought was that somehow I’d got a bad batch or something. So the next day I went to a different hardware store and bought another one. I popped it open and it was exactly the same. How old was this stuff, anyway? Shellac has a limited shelf life. I looked all over the can and I couldn’t find a manufacturing date or an expiration date or anything that might indicate when it was made. So for all I knew this stuff had been sitting on the shelf for years.
Well, I wanted to follow the instructions exactly so I mixed the stuff up using the Zinsser’s anyway. I mixed 4 oz of each of the three products and, frankly, it didn’t look very good. Or smell very good. But let’s try it and see what happens.
I had a small, simple ambrosia maple bowl on the lathe that I’d just finished sanding and decided to try it on that. The instructions for using the stuff are pretty simple. Just slather the stuff on using a paper towel until the wood doesn’t absorb it any more. Then spin up the lathe and start applying very, very light coats until the wood doesn’t seem to be absorbing anything and then start to slowly buff it out. So that’s what I did.
I didn’t have high hopes for this stuff, but I have to admit that it turned out fairly nice.
But to be honest, it isn’t as nice as I’d hoped it would be, and certainly isn’t as nice as the proponents of this stuff claim. Nor is it as easy to use as they claim. In fact it is considerably more time consuming and difficult to use properly than my usual method of just putting several seal coats of thin shellac on a piece of wood followed by carnauba wax and buffing it out.
First thing I discovered is dear lord do not use paper towels, which is what a lot of these guys recommend. Paper towels began to disintegrate almost immediately, leaving shreds of paper all over the wood. I ended up having to go over the whole thing with OOOO steel wool to remove the tiny paper shreds and start over using a piece of lint free fabric.
Second, this is not a fast process. They make it seem so fast and easy in the videos. It isn’t. It takes a considerable amount of time, and many, many coats of this stuff before it starts to get even close to glossy. And it took me quite a while before I began to figure out just how much pressure and how much ‘juice’ to use to get it to start to buff out properly.
Does it work, though? Sort of. The end result looks pretty good. I can see this being useful for projects that have a lot of detail and odd shapes where it would be difficult to get waxes or other finishes into all of the little nooks and crannies. But is it something I’ll use frequently? Probably not.
Now, the dangerous bit. I’m not joking around here – linseed oil is aseriousfire hazard. It generates heat as it dries, a lot of heat. Enough to cause rags, paper towels, etc. to spontaneously combust. I like to think I am not a paranoid person, but linseed oil scares me because I’ve seen this happen in real life. This stuff can and will cause fires if you don’t handle it properly.
Is OB shine juice a potential fire hazard then? It is only one third linseed oil so the risk is probably minimal. But do you want to take the chance? I don’t. The rags I used for this project were soaked in a material that contains alcohol, which is highly flammable, plus linseed oil which can spontaneously combust. Do you think I’m going to keep that in the house? I may be crazy but I’m not stupid (I hope). They were immediately dumped into a container of water and taken outside and they’ll end up in the firepit. Am I being paranoid? Maybe. Don’t care. I’m not going to take the chance.
Cleaning – ah, yes, cleaning… I was getting tired of not being able to find stuff and having to dig through all of the clutter in the shop. And finding piles of dust, dead spiders, cobwebs, bits of sandpaper, pieces of wood piled all over, etc. whenever I moved something. So I started cleaning up the shop and trying to organize things better.
And what do I do with some of this stuff? I have a $200 biscuit joiner that I used exactly once about 15 years ago that’s been gathering dust ever since. I have jigs that cost some serious money and were used once before I figured out that setting the damned jig up and doing test cuts to fine tune it took three times longer than just doing the job by hand. A half dozen plastic carrying cases for tools I don’t have any more (why didn’t I toss those years ago???). There’s an ancient Skil router with a bad collet that I can’t get parts for. I found three (three??? How did I end up with three???) scroll saws. A couple of dozen paper bags filled with screws and nails of every imaginable size. But of course none of them are ever the size I actually need for a specific project so I have to buy more. And then there are the bits and pieces that obviously came off of some tool, somewhere, but what tool? What were they used for? Should I just throw it away? Of course if I throw it away I’ll almost immediately remember that I really needed it…
And wood stuck away everywhere… Sheesh. But then is there even such a thing as having too much wood?
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.
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.
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.
I really should take more ‘before and after’ type photos of these little experiments because it’s interesting to see what a project looked like at the start and what it ended up as. My latest resin casting experiment started out looking like that over there on the right. Basically it looks like a vaguely iridescent plastic blob in a tub, and the end result is in that photo at the top.
If you want to see what it looks like lighted up there’s a short video way down at the end of this.
I didn’t take much care in designing this thing, I just basically chucked some wood scraps I thought were neat looking into the mold, mixed up some resin and dumped it in and this is what I got. I really need to take more care in planning out the actual design of what I want, especially for something that’s going to have a light in it as this one does. It doesn’t do much for the look of a lighted piece if there’s too much wood blocking the light from showing through.
My third experiment is currently in the pressure tank and should be ready for unmolding by Wednesday. This one is taller and wider than the previous two. And unlike the first two this one was actually done with some planning. The current one is going to be interesting for a couple of reasons. First it’s going to be more resin than wood. The previous two were mostly wood scraps with the voids filled with resin. Second, it’s a considerably larger pour than the others, about 40 ounces in total. I already don’t like the color. I had about 5 ounces of resin left over sitting in the mixing cup and looked at this morning and I’m disappointed with the coloring. But I won’t know for sure until I get it unmolded, shaped and lighted up, not just tea light holders like the first two. This one is designed to be an actual lamp. I already have a LED lamp insert ready to go for this one.
So, what have I learned?
First, there are an enormous number of different manufacturers and types of resin out there, and most of them aren’t going to be suitable for the kind of thing I’m doing. A lot of the ‘hobbyist’ kinds of resins are only intended for small, thin pours or for coating table and counter tops and that kind of thing. What I am doing are so-called ‘deep pours’ of two or more inches in depth, and the resin being used must be formulated to work that way.
Some of these resins are toxic. Read the specifications very, very carefully and follow all safety instructions. The stuff I’m using has no VOCs or fumes and is safe to use indoors with proper ventilation. Some of the stuff is downright nasty. So make sure you are aware of any safety concerns before using it.
Resin is not difficult to machine on the lathe. I’ve used both steel and carbide tools with equally good results. As long as the tools are very sharp there doesn’t seem to be a problem. It is, however, difficult to sand, and can clog sandpaper quickly, especially if spinning the object too fast in the lathe. What seems to happen is that friction will heat up the resin to the point of melting into the sandpaper and clogging it up. Keep lathe speed down, way down.
The longer a resin project sits, the more prone it is to chipping. The curing process continues long after the object is solid enough to work with, it seems. Of course this is going to be different with different types of resin. What works for me and the product I’m using may not work for others. With the stuff I’m using, the “sweet spot”, so to speak, seems to be 4 – 7 days. Before that, it’s too soft to work with. After that chipping becomes a concern. I can still work with it, but I have to be very careful, use very sharp tools, and be patient.
If you scrounge around Youtube and look at videos of guys turning resin projects, you’ll see them going to extraordinary, even obsessive lengths to polish the stuff, sanding it up to 4,000 grit or even higher, wet sanding (sorry, I did enough wet sanding when I worked in an autobody shop, I sure as heck don’t want to start dealing with that mess now) then using abrasive polishing pastes and buffing wheels and I don’t know what all else. That all seemed just a wee bit excessive to me. I rarely sand wood beyond 240 or 320 grit. Experience has told me that going farther than that isn’t going to make much difference, if any at all, on the final finish. And I wondered if that might be the case with resin. So I’ve been sanding my resin projects up to about 400 grit, then sealing the wood, a quick sand at 400, then carefully clean the piece and then slap a coat of wax on it and buff it out, and the stuff looks just as shiny and nice to me as the projects where these guys spend hours, even days polishing to perfection.
I only have two completed resin projects, of course, so my experience is extremely limited, so there is every chance I’m wrong about this. But so far I don’t see any reason to go to the extraordinary lengths some of these guys resort to in order to get a high gloss surface.
Anyway, I’m having fun with this and just ordered about $200 worth of resin so I can keep playing around. Hopefully this batch will be packaged better and won’t arrive with a punctured bottle.
Oh, the cactus! Almost forgot about that. It’s just coming into blossom right now and it looks like it’s going to be spectacular once it comes into full bloom.
Weather has been utterly amazing the last few days. Temps in the low 70s, sunny. It’s hard to believe we’re on the cusp of winter. We’ve been enjoying it while we can because we know what’s coming. Went out and drove around for a while in the convertible the other day. I actually put more miles on the bicycle this year than I did on the Corvette. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is a bit disappointing. All of our travel plans were disrupted by the virus. So we adapt and go on, right? That’s all you can do.
Here’s a short video of the new project while lighted up.