Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Of Wood and Mice and Men (part 2)

When I left off at part 1 of this post I had just glued my Cedar slab to a substrate and had to walk away while it cured overnight, which was time standing around that I really didn't have since Mom's birthday was barreling down on me.

Released from the prison of the glue-up, but before I glued the leaves in place, since that will take another overnight chunk of curing time, it was time to trim the slab down to its final size.

I don't know if she will use it that way, but in my mind's eye this vase sits on the slab, which will be the base of a tray, which sits on her table.

With the vase in place for visualization purposes I messed around with getting just the right size figured out, as you can tell from the various pencil lines to the right and left.

I had already settled on the sides, at the top and bottom, being slightly curved.

I came up with just the curve I wanted by bending a springy piece of wood in my hands until I liked the curve, then, while holding that curve, getting The Wive to trace it onto a scrap which I then cut at the bandsaw so I could use it as a template.

With the trimmed size of the slab determined I set both the tablesaw (for the straight end-cuts) and bandsaw (for the curved side cuts) to the 5 degree angle I had designed for the sides and ends to slant outward.

With the slab trimmed to final size it was finally time to glue the three leaves into place and walk away until the next day.

OK, This is where the mice and men stuff comes in, you know, best laid plans and all that.

When I started dry-fitting the oak sides and ends to the tray-bottom it looked like - well, it looked like crap!

Even with the necessary clamps and straps in the way I could see that that 5 degree angle was just bad. Bad composition, bad form, bad flow, bad everything!

So, after wasting time agonizing over this monumental fail, here I am clamping a belt sander to the bench so I can very carefully sand the angle off the curved sides and make them vertical again.

And back at the table saw, carefully bracing and wedging the slab, since I no longer have a straight edge to reference off of, (I originally cut the ends while the sides were still square then curved the sides at the bandsaw.) as I change the 5 degree slant on the ends to 20 degrees.

By now, what with all the dry-fitting of the complicated angles, the growing realization that this was just plain ugly, the time wasted in processing this monstrous blunder, and finally repairing the mess, I'd burned up most of a day and, because I had procrastinated so much in getting started on this project in the first place, had to work well into our usual popcorn and TV time that evening to get the now vertical sides glued to the base so they could cure overnight.

It's hard to see in photos, which seem to straighten them out, but by looking at the angle of the jaws of the far clamp you can get an idea of the amount of curve I'm dealing with here.

To make up for the late night, the next day was a short one as I glued the ends of the tray into place.

I started by slicing a scrap but straight bit of 2X4 down the middle at a 20 degree angle. By flipping one of the resulting pieces over, these formed clamping blocks to translate my vertical clamp-jaws into the proper angle.

The bench-clamps in the middle are holding the assembly down so it doesn't squeeze up and escape as I apply clamping pressure from the ends.

The next day, after the ends had plenty of time to cure, I clamped a half-sheet of sandpaper to the bench, and using the other half as a spacer to keep the tray flat, I sanded the bottom edge of the angled ends flat and square with the bottom of the tray.

For some reason, probably because I was scrambling to wrap this project up in time, I didn't take any photos of applying the finish or the final glue-up where I covered the bottom of the tray with black felt and then carefully trimmed it to fit, 'polishing' the cut edges with a quick pass of a propane torch.

But I did finally hand it, and the vase, over to the USPS, then tracked it nervously through a vicious cold-snap that had even the post office bottled up next to the fire as my package sat, almost within sight of Mom's mailbox, for two days, but it finally made it there with a half-day to spare!

Right about now is when I should vow to never procrastinate again, but that can wait. . .

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Of Wood and Mice and Men (part 1)

I knew way back in early - well, let's just say many months ago - that Mom was looking for a new centerpiece for the dining table in her downsized apartment. I also knew that its a rule that mothers are required to gush and grin and fawn over refrigerator artwork from the hands of their children. And, of course, since I'm the good son, (OK Mom, you can stop laughing now. . .) I also knew that she had a birthday coming up.

But that, knowing her birthday is coming up, didn't keep me from fiddling and farting around until suddenly The Day was sneaking up and coming at me like a freight train.

I'm not one of those that's necessarily better under pressure, nor am I the type that enjoys and thrives on pressure. No, I'm the guy that pays the month's bills just as soon as the final statement has been posted to get it done and out of the way. (OK, technically I schedule the payments then since they aren't actually paid until 2 days before coming due.) Yet somehow I found myself scrambling around frantically gathering supplies while under an ever tightening deadline.

But first I had to clean up the workbench which had suffered greatly under a plethora of small projects and over-spray. (You try painting the wire of Christmas tree lights with a spray-can because seeing green wire against a brown trunk bugs the crap out of The Wife! Oh, and next time she can tape off all 150 bulbs!)

After getting the workbench clean enough to actually work on, I split that chunk of Red Heart Cedar (All the wood was harvested from the property) at the band-saw and edge-glued it back together to create a larger slab.

With that having to cook overnight I spent a few minutes wandering the property looking for just the perfect (from left to right) Post Oak, Water Oak, and Live Oak leaves.

I traced each one onto paper which I then cut out and glued to one of the small slabs of oak.

Next it was time to set up the scroll-saw and cut the leaves out.

Prior to this, because I knew I was down to my last blade and scroll-saw blades don't usually last very long for me since I tend to break them, I bought a fresh pack of assorted blades. There were only a few in the pack that I could use, but that assortment was all I could find in a hurry. . .

Except. . . When I lifted the scroll-saw off the wall-peg where it is stored, three more packs of blades that I had completely forgotten about dropped to the floor! (If this sounds suspiciously like the recent battery incident, it is, and clearly I haven't yet learned that lesson.)

A quick detour here because, well, I've already nearly run myself out of time to get this done so what's the harm in wasting more of that time, right?

When I built my shop I included a cutout in the fixed workbench. I also cut a number of "plugs" that fit into that cutout and have mounted them to the bottom of some of my smaller, bench tools.

If you check back to the photo prior to this one you can just barely see one of these plugs attached to the bottom of the grinder now sitting to the right and how the plug on the bottom of the scroll-saw fits into the bench.

Now all I have to do is drop whatever tool I'm working with at the moment into the cutout in the bench and it is firmly stabilized. As an added bonus, I drill holes in the plug which makes it a snap to hang unused tools up out of the way.

 Once the leaves are cut out at the scroll-saw, and the glued up Cedar slab is cleaned up and planed down, I messed around with arraigning the leaves on the slab until I was reasonably happy, then carefully traced the outline of each leaf onto the Cedar with a fresh #11 blade. (Pencil lines, even from the finest mechanical pencil, are too thick and imprecise for this step. The old cabinet makers struck most of their lines with blades and finding these marks on the dove-tails of drawers and insides of cabinets is one way of authenticating a piece.)

Then I drilled a hole inside each leaf-tracing and headed back to the scroll-saw where I snaked the blade up through each hole in turn so I could cut the shape away.

My particular saw used to have a little puffer thingy on it that would use the up and down motion of the arm to blow sawdust away from the blade so I could see what the heck I was doing. It worked fine but unfortunately didn't work long, or at least not long enough. A long time ago now the little bellows that made the thingy work split wide open and it quit puffing.

Now I use a nightmarish concoction of air-hose and various clamps to blow a gentle but cold (This was January in my unheated shop) stream of air at the juncture of wood and blade.

I'm using a spiral blade here, which is great because it cuts in any direction which means I don't have to keep spinning and turning that largish slab so a traditional blade can follow the line, but the spiral blade does take some getting used to and before I did any real cuts I used up some time I didn't really have in making some practice cuts on a scrap to get my 'feel' back.

Back on the real cuts, the trick is to cut just inside the line. No pressure here, but if you wander over to the other side of the line the piece is ruined. Like I said, no pressure but - well - tick tock.

The next step is to use a variety of carving knives and files to fine-tune the holes in the slab to perfectly fit the leaves so they will drop right in.

Thought the finished product might look like it, technically this is process I'm using is not inlay. If that were the case a leaf-shaped depression would be carved into a thick slab, instead this technique here is officially marquetry, but who really cares?  After all, you can call me anything you want and it doesn't really make a difference. (OK, I know what you're thinking, and I'll concede that if you call me something nasty, and it's true, it might sting a little.)

With the leaf-holes all cleaned up and ready it was time to glue the slab onto a substrate. In this case a scrap of luan (Just barely poking in over on the left.) left over from when I built The Van's latest cabinet doors.

Wanting to make sure I got a good, solid glue-up I clamped the sandwich between some scraps of MDF.

MDF, while send-me-to-the-chiropractor heavy, and choke-my-lungs dusty when cut or sanded, is relatively soft which means it not only won't mar the material under it but it will also conform to minor defects and variations which makes it perfect when clamping glue-ups.

I also threw in a caul to put some pressure there in the middle where the clamps around the edges don't reach. A caul is a heavy piece of wood with a slightly convex face that puts pressure out in the middle of the field when clamped at both ends.

Ten might seem like an awful lot of clamps for this small glue-up,but none of them are gorilla'ed down since squeezing out the glue kind of defeats the purpose. I just used lots of them to ensure a fairly even clamping pressure across the entire surface and cranked each one down to a light-medium.

OK, this is getting a little long so part 2 will follow in another post.

What's that?

Oh - you get the wood reference in the title but what about the mice and men?

Well that's coming up.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

At Last, A Sunny Day!

(When I first grabbed the camera there was a male Cardinal sitting there on the feeder that would have made a much more dramatic photo, but alas, he was too jumpy to sit still for me.)

According to the weatherman, prior to this morning we have had 12 consecutive days of clouds, but it feels like a lot more than that considering that we have had measurable rain for 25 of the last 30 days. . .

Friday, February 8, 2019

The Climate Roller-Coaster: Up Close and Personal

First off, I should warn you that I'm pretty much over it, so my mood is a touch on the dark side right now.

Which is fitting because since November we here in Central Texas have been subjected to more grey days than sunny, which is in stark contrast to what the Chamber of Commerce advertises.

We've been having to turn the lights on during the day for crying out loud!

This is not normal and frankly if I wanted to live like this, more like a mushroom than a blooming Barrel Cactus, (In my head I'm more like an Ocotillo branch but, well, frankly, though they are both prickly yet redeemed somewhat by colorful blooms, shape-wise the Barrel Cactus is the more honest symbolism.)  I could have stayed in Michigan.

Climate change is a given, after all, these cyclical changes have been going on for billions of years, ever since there has been a thin wisp of atmosphere clinging desperately to our planet, and will continue for a few billion more, with or without human interference. (Though without would be nice!) but that doesn't mean I have to like what it does to my particular patch of this planet!

I mean come on!!

Two days ago we nearly hit 80 around here, (64 is the normal high) yesterday morning the low was 70, (44 is the norm) and today we will not make it out of the 30's.

I don't really mind the cold that has settled on us, at least not too much, but the plants we seeded 8 days ago do.

Notice how grey and dim this photo, taken at noon today, is?  Bleh!!

According to the Urban Dictionary bleh is a kind of hybrid between Bleurgh, a sound more than a word, meaning that you are totally disgusted by something, and Meh, a word of passive, unenthusiastic attitude. Bleh is like a slightly disgusted meh.

(I would have stuck with the more emphatic Bleurgh as that more accurately describes my feeling right now but, like the commercial used to say, 'you don't fool with Mother Nature', and I don't want to risk calling her wrath down on me.)

Despite the fact that we call it a greenhouse it really isn't. Its more of shelter to keep animals, of which we have our share, out of the plants. (I disturbed two sows, a boar, and about 10 Collie sized little ones luxuriating in a wallow, as feral hogs are wont to do, when doing my laps the other day)

So what to do?

As the sun dropped yesterday, knowing what the night held is store for us, or rather the plants, we lugged buckets of tender plants into the barn where the overnight low was 56.

Since they will have to stay here now until at least mid-morning  tomorrow when it is supposed to warm up to tolerable levels again, we misted them down lightly and left them to hibernate under the brightest light in the barn.

Hopefully by the time we plant the next batch in a few days (In order to extend our harvest season we succession-plant 10 to 15 days apart.) the weather will have settled back into something that more closely matches the norms for this time of year.

Oh, and Mother Earth? If you're listening. We could use a little more sun around here too.

On a slightly less whiny note, what's one to do if they don't want to buy expensive plant-marker sticks?

Intercept one of The Wife's water bottles on its way out to the recycling trailer and mutilate it!

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Sperm Count of Freeze-Dried Balls?

Whats the sperm count of freeze-dried balls??

I don't know and I don't want to find out!!

The greenhouse was there over that bare patch just this side of the AC units. And no, the barn is not cockeyed, just me.

So while a big chunk of the country is participating in a deep-freeze procreation experiment I'm down here moving the greenhouse because February is planting time. If we don't get our cool-season crops and tomatoes in by mid February the coming summer heat will choke them off.

While I'm going by the open doors of the barn I decide it's a good time to air up the tires, which have been neglected for a good year now since that is a normal 7' wide trailer but the 10' wide greenhouse overhangs quite a bit, making the tires hard to get at.

We've had the greenhouse up against the northeast side of the barn since south of the parking pad proved to be too harsh, sun exposure wise. But last year's crops, the ones that didn't fail outright, were pretty anemic because there just wasn't enough sun.

Made it down the steep slope off the side of the driveway then back up the hill to the southwest side of the barn without any major catastrophes! Now I just have to make sure it doesn't roll back down the hill and into the pond. . .

This year we're going to try out an exposed spot on the southwest side of the barn that gets late afternoon shade from a couple cedar trees. If that's still too much we'll drape some shade-cloth, which is probably what we should have done in the first place.

OK, leveled up, blocked in place, and tested. Yep, I've already climbed inside and jumped my considerable mass around without the thing taking off down the hill. But then again, I'd have to pay good money at Disney World for a ride like that!

Now where did I put those radish seeds? I just bought the dang things a week ago! Maybe my memory would improve, or at least not deteriorate quite so rapidly, if I tried some of that freeze-dried therapy.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Arrogance Bites Me on the Butt

The other day I used up my last 2032 battery on the digital level I use for tool setups, especially on the table saw. I knew it was my last one so I added 2032's to my shopping list for the next trip to town.

Of course if I had bothered to properly check the battery bin before I made that trip instead of being so dang sure of myself I would have known I already had twice as many spare 2032's than I can use up in a year. . .

That's 5 bucks I just wasted.

Monday, January 14, 2019

The Metamorphosis of Iron Leads to Life

I was cutting yet another trail on the property when I ran into this snarl of steel cable, right where my trail was going.

This time I was cutting my way serpentine way through a neglected sliver of our property between the county road and the electric-coop right of way. I was at the top of a hill looking through the fence and down into the cut the county road sits in.

As it's far too large to be used in fence-building, the only other thing up there besides the road, I suspect this 3/4 inch cable had some sort of association to the road-builders that cut a notch through the top of this hill. The road has been there for 150 years and, according to the 78 year old neighbor on the ranch to the south, he remembers the road being "improved" with cuts and fills some 60 to 65 years ago.

Maybe the cable was wound around the spools of a steam-shovel ripping a slash through the hill and there was a back-lash which snarled it all up, or perhaps it was used in an attempt to drag some stuck piece of equipment out of a mud-hole and this is the leftovers when it snapped under the pressure. Whatever it was used for back then, back when I was just learning to walk, something must have gone wrong for the crew to abandon it here in the woods; right in the path of my new trail.

I made a brief attempt to pull it up but over the years the ground and tree-roots have swallowed much of it and I lost the wrestling match.

OK, so in actuality, it kicked my ass. . .

I could have re-routed my trail around it, but the woods are thick up here and I was already one heartbeat away from an ambulance ride due to trying to drag it out of the ground, so instead, while the cable continues to slowly morph back into the earth it came from, I decided to designate it as part of my daily regime, using it as a balance and agility-improving obstacle as I dance my way through the foot-snatching loops while I'm doing my laps around the property. (Yeah, I know, a pretty pathetic excuse. But hey, you do whatcha gota do.) 

Iron Ore docks in Duluth Minnesota 1915. They are not much different today and are used to transfer Iron Ore (Now days taconite) from rail to lake freighter.

OK, I know that I titled this post with the word metamorphosis, which is a biological process and the iron this steel cable was made with is an element, but I'm actually not using the word incorrectly, at least not entirely.

In its day the Henry Ford II, a self unloader, was considered one of the prettiest of the lake freighters
I grew up in the land of iron mines and the lake freighters hauling ore to smelters, but even so, like many, at least those that stopped and thought about it, I just assumed the iron being ripped out of the ground had something to do with the earth's iron core and volcanic activity. It wasn't until later, and no thanks to our primary school system of the day, that I discovered that that is wrong. And that the truth is actually quite fascinating.

The iron ore we mine is from sedimentary rocks not the igneous rock of cooling magma. Yep, that's right, Iron ore comes from rock formed by stuff settling out of water.

Some 1.8 billion years ago (Yep, that's illon with a B!) the earth's oceans were chocked full of dissolved iron and it wasn't going anywhere because there was virtually no dissolved oxygen in those waters.. Then along came photosynthesizing algae, eventually followed by its more complex cousins, all creating oxygen which didn't even have time to unpack its bags before combining with the iron (Yep, there's the biological connection) forming hematite or magnetite, the two main iron ore types, which settled to the sea floor.

In the image above the grey bands are hematite, high-grade ore, and the red are jasper, a low-grade ore that today is processed to extract taconite which is then turned into iron. The hypothesis is that the banding might have something to do with seasonal effects on the oxygen producing organisms.

But the thing to remember is that it wasn't until the vast amounts of dissolved iron had all been settled out and stopped hogging the oxygen, that there was enough O2 left over for the rest of us, for any carbon-based, non-photosynthesis life. There is no limestone older than iron ore deposits because there were no corals, forams, and mollusks around to form limestone because of free iron. And it wasn't until much later that there was enough oxygen making it into the atmosphere to support non-aquatic life.

In other words, all of the earth's higher forms of biological activity had to wait on elemental iron to get out of the way before they could get their start.

As I sat up there on the top of the hill looking at the flakes of steel cable embedded into my palms from ineffectually tugging on it and thinking about how old those elemental particles were compared to my own, less-than-a-speck-in-the-eye, biologic lifespan, my mind was blown.