A Review: The Tools (And Products) of 2020

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

Rikon 10-3061 Bandsaw: Score – 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

Delta 46-460 Midi-Lathe: Score – 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

I really expected better from Delta.

Rikon 8″ Low Speed Grinder: Score – 9

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

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

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

Wolverine Grinding Jig with Vari-Grind: Score – 8

You can probably tell this thing gets used a lot.

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

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

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

Nova 4 Jaw Chuck: Score – 9

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

ShopFox Air Filtration System: Score – 8

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

Starbond CA Adhesives: Score – 5

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

Naked Fusion Deep Pour Resin: Score – 9

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

“OB Shine Juice”: Score – 3

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

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

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

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

Zinsser Shellac: Score – 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Details on finishing, New BandSaw, plus Stuff

Someone asked what kind of wax and finish I’ve started using recently so here’s a bit more info.

The basic formula for the sanding sealer I use is one ounce (weight, not volume) of shellac flakes to one cup of denatured alcohol. Put the flakes into a glass jar that has a tight fitting lid. Add one cup of denatured alcohol. Give it a stir, put on the lid and let it sit for at least 24 hours. If there is still undissolved shellac at the bottom of the jar after 24 hours, give it a gentle shake and let it sit another 12 hours. By that time everything should have dissolved. Once it’s dissolved, pour it through a coffee filter into a clean jar and put an air tight lid on it, and it’s ready to use. It will be pretty thin. That’s ok because for this application I don’t want a thick product. You can make different “cuts”, i.e. concentrations, of shellac for different purposes. It’s pretty useful stuff for a woodworker. If you make it yourself it’s of better quality than the pre-made stuff you get at the home improvement stores. I am not sure how long of a shelf life it has, to be honest. I’d think that as long as you have it in an airtight container it should last for months.

Not sure why it looks so dark in the photo. It’s really a pale gold color in real life. Just made this batch earlier in the week.

I use it mostly as a sealer. I figured out (I think at least) that the reason the beeswax/tung oil finish was looking so poor after a couple of months was that it was being absorbed into the unsealed wood. Maybe. I do know that after I started putting on the sealer before the final finishes the projects look much better and doesn’t seem to degrade over time.

I use a disposable brush to put a thin coat on the raw wood after it’s been sanded. Don’t load up the brush and really slather it on, use just enough to cover the wood. A lot of it will absorb into the wood, especially on end grain, so I put on 2-3 thin coats. Then I buff it lightly with #OOOO steel wool. Wipe it down with a clean cloth and look for any imperfections or problem and sand and apply another coat if needed.

This is what walnut looks like after three coats of the shellac has been applied.

People with good eyes will note that this thing should have been sanded more. But this is going to be a pencil holder for my workbench so I don’t really care that much so I only sanded it up to 240 grit and I wasn’t real careful even doing that. It’s going to get beat up anyway. This has 3 coats of shellac on it.
There is no such thing as too many pencils in a shop.

Now you could just buff this out as-is, maybe put on a thicker cut or more coats as necessary to get a nice finish. Shellac makes a perfectly good wood finish all by itself and has an advantage in that it is repairable. You can just apply another coat, the alcohol will dissolve the existing shellac and it will all blend together. But shellac is fairly easy to damage and I want something a bit more durable and harder, so I’ve started using carnauba wax.

Carnauba is interesting stuff. It’s made from the leaves of a palm tree from South America. The stuff is incredibly useful. Go look it up over at Wikipedia if you want to know more.

I learned an interesting trick for applying the wax from watching videos on Youtube. I buy solid carnauba formed into a bar about the size of a candy bar. I spin the bowl or whatever on the lathe at about medium speed and press the bar against the spinning bowl.

This leaves a deposit of wax on the bowl. Then I turn up the speed on the lathe and buff it out with a clean cloth.

That generates enough friction to heat the wax up and melt it, leaving behind a nice, glossy surface.

BTW: the black stripe is India ink. It’s a great way to add accents to a piece. But if you use the ink make sure you seal the wood first or it will seep into the wood, sometimes traveling a considerable distance through the wood fibers.

As far as I’m concerned, there are a lot of advantages to this. It doesn’t take long to do. The shellac dries pretty quickly so I generally just leave the piece on the lathe during the whole process. It only takes a few minutes to apply a coat of the wax. The resulting finish looks pretty darn nice. And it seems to be pretty durable as well. Best of all there are no harsh or harmful chemicals in this stuff. Shellac and carnauba wax are both so safe they’re used as food ingredients. The alcohol evaporates within a few minutes. Some caution is necessary because of alcohol fumes, but that stuff is heck of a lot safer to use than many of the additives they put into commercial finishes.

It’s also reasonably cheap. That bar of wax cost me about $13 and it looks like it will last me a year or longer. It takes very little to cover a bowl. That 1 lb bag of shellac flakes cost me about $30. At the rate I’m using it that bag will last me over a year as well. The actual cost of the shellac works out to about $1.87 of shellac flakes per cup of liquid product at the rate I use it. Denatured alcohol sets me back $35/gallon, or $2.18 per cup. Rounding everything off, it costs me about $4 per 8 oz cup to make the liquid shellac I use. Now I could get commercially premade stuff for about that cost or even a bit less than that, but this way I know exactly what’s in the product I’m using. I don’t have to be afraid of some kind of weird chemicals being in the stuff that could be potentially harmful. Some commercial producers throw in additives to extend the shelf life because that can could be sitting on the shelf in a store for years before someone buys it. They also add coloring agents, chemicals to control evaporation rates and I don’t know what all else. And the quality seems much better than what I’ve bought commercially.

It does slightly alter the color of the wood, however. The lightest grade of shellac will add a sort of golden tone to woods, especially lighter colored woods. It generally isn’t all that noticeable, though. It is available in different colors that range into a deep, reddish brown.

Rikon Band Saw

I mentioned a week or so ago that I bought this. So far it looks like it’s a pretty nice saw, but it’s early days yet. I bought it from Amazon. It arrived well packed in a single big box weighing around 80 lbs. I had to use a handcart to get the thing down into the workshop. It does not come with a stand so I had to spend another $50 to get a stand for it. It went together pretty easily. It took longer to put the stand together than it took to put the saw together. The saw comes with all of the tools needed to put it together except for a screwdriver. The only thing I had to put on the saw was the table and a few bits and pieces, and do basic setup of the blade guides. The blade was pre-installed. Installing the table was a bit fiddly, and I think I’ll need to get in there and do a bit of fine tuning to get everything perfectly square.

So far it looks like a really nice saw. I’ve wanted one of these for a long time and it is already proving itself to be one of the more useful tools I have in the shop.

To be honest I didn’t really expect much from a bandsaw in this price range. I paid $430 for the Rikon and I assumed that despite the glowing reviews it would be under powered, be flimsy and have problems. I was wrong. Build quality seems to generally be excellent. The motor hasn’t bogged down even when cutting 4+ inch thick stock. Dust collection isn’t as good as I’d like it to be but even there it isn’t horrible. It does a good job cutting curves and circles.

It does have some minor issues that aren’t deal killers. They claim it has a full 5″ cutting capacity. It’s actually a bit less than that. It seems rather noisy when cutting, but I don’t have a lot of experience with bandsaws so this might be normal. I’m a bit concerned about the amount of sawdust that accumulates on the lower blade guides as shown in the photo up there. The fence is, well, a basic fence that pretty much works, but I’d have liked one a bit more sturdy. Still, at this price I should be grateful it comes with a useable fence at all.

Let’s see, what else is going on- oh, I have a new resin piece sitting in the pressure pot that should be coming out in 2 days. I’m using up some scrap wood and am going to try to make a small decorative lamp. I picked up some small LED lamp inserts with in-line switches for about $7 each that look like they should work. So we’ll see how that goes once the resin is cured and I get it out of the pot. I figure it will take at least 2 – 3 days for it to cure.

The weather has been, well, this is Wisconsin. The weather here is always a bit strange. I remember days when we literally had snow storms in the middle of May. In the last week we went from winter like conditions where the temperatures never got above 35 degrees and one or two snow falls, to temperatures now up in the mid to high sixties.

Not much is going on out in the gardens. MrsGF got bored yesterday and did some more cleanup in the gardens, but other than that most gardening stuff is going to be on hold until late winter when we start planning what to grow. And somehow that dopey rose bush in front of the house is still in flower.

I don’t know how this thing does it. After days of temperatures under 35 degrees, dipping down to about 20 at night, this thing is still flowering?

I picked up a really nice piece of ambrosia maple and I’m trying to figure out what to do with that. It looks like a really interesting piece of wood. The problem is it’s green. My moisture meter says it’s up about 35% moisture. That means I can’t just start whacking away at it. I’ll have to work it down into a rough shape and then let it sit and dry for a few weeks before I can actually finish it up.

A lot of wood turners love working with green wood because it is a lot easier to rough into shape on the lathe. I think these people are silly. Working with dry wood is, in my personal experience, not that much more difficult than working with the green stuff if your tools are sharp and you’re using the right techniques. I like to think I’m a patient person, but sitting around waiting weeks or even months for a green bowl blank to dry down? No thanks. Plus green wood warps, cracks and checks as it dries down and I’ve ended up with nice pieces of wood being tossed onto the scrap pile. So I’d much, much rather work with dry wood than green.

And that’s about it for now.