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Showing posts from 2009

Spear & Jackson oil free air compressor

A nice little compressor!


The chief technical officer's latest acquisition is the very neat looking Spear and Jackson oil free compressor. Scoff you may - but it was purchased for a tidy $150 (ish) with the following considerations in mind:

1) A small unit is never going to be big enough
Every online forum discussion about which is the right air compressor to buy leads inevitably to the conclusion that such and such a model is not big enough. Until you get into serious belt-drive models with enormous storage tanks you won't have enough air to run 500 air-tools simultaneously.

2) It is only required for small, intermittent jobs
The air gun will be used for cleaning saw dust off tools, and blasting crud out of the crevices in the back deck. Once in a while, a little bit of nailing and framing, perhaps the odd car tyre or lilo inflation. If these take a few seconds extra while it catches its breathe, its acceptable.

3) We really really wanted one
At this price point, we can satisfy our…

Garage Door Repair - The 5 Minute Clamp

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A quick update on a previous post, showing the 5 minute clamp installed between the wall and garage roller door. A quick tightening of the clamp using a shifting spanner pushed the track back into alignment. Partly thanks to the split ring washers used, the clamp locks firmly in place and shows no sign of movement as the door operates.

A very quick and effective solution that cost about 50 cents all up.

Ebonizing Timber: Wattle

Here is a sample of wattle, also left overnight to soak in ebonizing solution. Not an outstanding example of ebonizing but creates an interesting effect nonetheless.

Wishing you a productive weekend...

Ebonizing Timber: Merbau

This is an offcut of (I believe) Merbau decking, also known as Kwila. This is a species known for high tannin content which would explain the very strong reaction seen in the ebonized sample. This piece was soaked overnight in a jar of ebonizing solution.

Wishing you a productive weekend...

Ebonizing Timber: Tasmanian Oak

The Tasmanian Oak reacted quickly wherever the solution was able to soak into the grain of the wood. This sample was simply dipped into the ebonizing solution, allowed to air dry and the process repeated.


Wishing you a productive weekend...

Ebonizing Timber: Can you ebonize bamboo?

Apparently not, at least not with the rust+vinegar method. In both photos, the piece of bamboo
on the left is the control sample (original state), the piece on the right has been soaked overnight in ebonizing solution - virtually no change took place.

If you have had success with another method please share it via comments!

One of the things I like about the ebonizing process is that you get a pretty fair indication of how reactive the timber is within a few minutes. Any timber that gets noticeably darker after a quick brush with ebonizing solution is going to go very dark with a thorough soaking or repeated brush applications.





Wishing you a productive weekend...

Are you being too cheap on yourself?

Skilled Do-It-Yourselfers achieve their end results at zero cost so often that it starts to become a habit. A good friend of mine actually has a "zero cost policy" - when a job falls under this category we are only allowed to work on it with materials we already happen to have lying around or that we collect by the side of the road during council cleanup time.

I am not disputing thriftiness. If you are making things to make do on a tight budget, then power to you. Necessity is the mother of invention. However, if making things is your hobby which brings you pleasure, perhaps you should consider spending a little more on it.

A classic example of being too cheap are homebrewers. Early on in the career of every homebrewer, the urge is there to work out exactly how much it is costing to make a bottle of beer. Many people try homebrewing because they are told how much money they will save. But realistically, if you value your time at all, its still probably cheaper to seek out low …

Making Money out of your Hobby

Visit any country town in Australia and somewhere you'll find a few items from the local woodturner for sale - usually priced under $20 and gathering dust. As often as not, the craftmanship is excellent and the finish is flawless. Yet these items seem to sell like used VHS tapes - that is, not well.

Knitted tea cosies and baby booties always seem to find their market, but for sake of argument lets assume you don't plan to trade your lathe or table saw for knitting needles just yet. A few ideas some of my associates have kicked around recently:

1. Make BIG things
One correspondent reports his breakthrough came when he started making large items which psychologically people thought must cost more. They were happy to pay hundreds of dollars for a big item of common furniture. In contrast, would the average customer in a gift store have any idea about the number of hours you have invested in an intricate item.

2. Do custom jobs
If your work is of a high standard, most people wouldn'…

Whittling and Wood Carving

My parents bought me a copy of E.J Tangerman's book when I was 10 or 11 and I keep it in my possession to this day. Whilst I cannot boast of any award winning carvings I do recall amazing my old science teacher with 3 chain links carved from a single piece of cedar.

Whittling and Wood Carving by E.J. Tangerman

This is one of the books I never tire of going back to, if only to admire some of the designs, most of which are far beyond my skill level. There is something timeless about this book that was inspiring to me as a young reader and may prove likewise for others.

Rash Purchasing Decisions

I can tell the exact moment when I know my weekend has slipped out of my control. A job runs overtime, friends drop in or some family emergency comes up. I know this is when (if I am within half an hour drive of a hardware store) I am vulnerable to making a rash purchasing decision.

Why? Because modern marketing has relentlessly impressed on me that by buying something I am achieving something. All I need is the next gagdet and my problems will be solved. I am trying to buy back control so I can feel satisfied (which rationally I know is an illusion).

Some recent Sunday afternoon temptations:

Light fittings (never installed)
Sharpening system (not opened)
Big Steel Toolbox (if i buy a ute one day, will be very handy)
Rubber downpipe plugs for bush-fire preparedness (don't even know where these are supposed to go!)

In consolation I wonder how many routers, drill presses, band saws and whipper snippers never even get unpacked in the first 6 months. Ironically, all that is needed to satisf…

What are you doing while you are doing nothing?

Really productive people are not frantically busy. Instead of rushing around in panic, massively productive people are getting things done even when they are doing nothing.

How? By running lead times in parallel with down time. Think of it like planting seeds - even while you are asleep, they are growing.

Picture this - its Saturday and I have to attend a family lunch. But I know, that while I am barbecuing and drinking beer, time is working for me. In parallel with my social activities I have other things happening:

Homebrew is fermenting away
Glued up boards are setting
Shellac is hardening
My PC is running a full system backup, scan and update

If I can find enough scraps of time to get these processes underway I can then forget about them. Indeed with many jobs the longer you leave them the better the results (ageing wine, clarifying solutions, curing glues etc).

Understanding lead time and critical path

Lead time: How long it takes for a part to arrive once you have ordered it.

Critical Path: A list of jobs or stages, each one dependent (unable to start) until the previous stage has been completed.

Time, we discover, does not equal output. Quality aspects aside, two people given the same amount of time will produce vastly different quantities of final product. Two simple concepts to apply to your next (or current, or long overdue) project are lead time and critical path.

Lead time is lost time. Ordering a spare on Saturday morning is not much use if you need it that weekend. Sitting around waiting for things to arrive is not productive. Lead times are often connected to "preparation" and many of these steps can be moved out of weekend time and into the weekday. For example, it may take 10 minutes to find a spare part online, then 4 days for delivery.

The Critical Path shows you which stages must be completed before the next stage can be started. Two or more stages may be able…

Ballistol for Rust Removal

One of the many claims made on the back of the ballistol can is its ability to dissolve rust. Here are before and after photos of a rusted spanner head sprayed with a generous coat of ballistol and left for about an hour. The ballistol was then dried off using a paper towel.

This product continues to give pleasing results and I think warrants use on many rusted tools where it may be tempting to apply a wire wheel (potentially disfiguring engraving you didn't realise was there in the first place).

Timber Floor Gripes

There seems to be no end in sight for the popularity of timber and "floating timber" floors. My only beef on the subject is the apparent acceptability of not skirting the newly laid floor properly. Recently I have seen several examples where the floors were overlaid and the installers simply announced (after packing their tools up) that it would be "too hard" to put a skirting board around the floor (over an existing original skirting board). Funny how this never gets a mention by the salesperson at the showroom.

This photograph from a friend's house shows the view of the bare surface visible every time the fridge door is opened - complete with small cutout section existing for no apparent reason. Given that people invest a lot of money and thought into the timber selection, it would seem prudent to spend a few moments checking out the installers.

Made to last - My Top 5

How many of your tools have reached the 10 year service mark? The other day I realised a number of the items on my workbench have hit this vintage. Some I can remember buying when I was still in highschool. That makes them at least 15 years old. Apart from a few cosmetic wrinkles, these tools are still going strong. Costing these purchases out over this sort of timeline makes the prices seem ridiculously cheap.


1) Dremel Multi-tool (1996)
These have gone through several evolutions since, at least as far as the body design goes. The ability to cut tiny amounts of material at incredibly high speeds has proven useful in countless situations. The wafer thin abrasive cut-off wheels are just magic when you want a fine clean cut into hardened metals. Whatever it lacks in sheer grunt it makes up for in triplicate with precision.The tungsten-carbide cutters have also proven themselves in many tight spots.

2) Maglite - 3xD Cell Krypton Flashlight(1993)
Its been dropped, lost, forgotten, mistreate…

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The Great Step-Stool

It began with a friend deciding his mother needed a basic timber step-stool. An offer of help by a friendly cabinet maker soon followed. What unfolded was one of the most enjoyable learning exercises I have taken part in. We ran well over-schedule, but we learnt a lot:

1) Improving on the basic design (aesthetics)
Original design was just a box. But, it was argued, if we are going to go to all this trouble, why not make a nice looking box. This meant more than just polishing it up, it meant incorporating design elements that would be visually appealing. Clean lines, curves, and so forth. Drawings became necessary (we had no drawing to start with, as it was just going to be a box) ... soon measurements were being taken and pencilled in. Tape measures and rulers were being applied to timber and body parts. Ideas were forming.

2) Timber selection and preparation
The timber had to be sound and dry. But as we would be joining boards side-on, what about matching the grain as closely as possible…

The magic of silicone

A reader pointed out the other day I had neglected to include silicone rubber in my list of low cost consumables for your toolbox. I have to confess it took me a while to warm up to this as a product. Probably for the same reason that I have since been taught to love it. This stuff is about as non-bio-degradeable as you can get. It is one of those mysterious products brought to us by modern science that can endure the extremes of weather, temperature and moisture and still hold a watertight seal for 20 years. It doesn`t react much with other chemicals, insects don`t like eating it and bacteria and other microbes are not terribly fond of it either.

On the downside, even when it has eventually given out and you scrape it out of your shower recess and replace it with a fresh bead, the stuff you laid down 20 years ago isn`t going to disappear just because you want it to. Who knows how much of this stuff is in our garbage tips now but odds are its going to be hanging around the planet for a…

5 minute expanding clamp

This week I was looking for a simple solution to keep a garage roller door track aligned. The brackets which keep the track aligned are adjustable and held in place by the tension of a coach screw. Unfortunately some of these had come loose and whilst a quick tighten seemed to correct the problem, I want to stop it from recurring. I suspect that over-tightening would only make make the problem worse.

Parallel to the frame however is a brick wall, and really all I needed was something to maintain a bit of pressure on the frame. Distance between frame and wall is 70mm.

My solution - a very simple expansion clamp made using 5/16 threaded rod, 2 mudguard washers, 2 split washers and 2 nuts. The nuts are tightened in opposite directions to push the clamp outwards. Pressure is applied to the mudguard washers so the threaded rod is not digging into the pine blocks.

A very simple solution that can be built in 5 minutes. Easily adjusted and easily removed.

Ebonizing Different Timbers

There is a huge variation in the way different timbers react to ebonizing fluids - which to my mind is a product of how deeply the fluid is absorbed and the different chemical makeup of the wood cells. The ebonizing fluid reacts with tannin and turns dark, so timbers with higher levels of tannin react better.

I do not consider identifying different timbers as a skill I possess so apologies for being vague about timber types. Here are a few photos of different scraps I tested.

1) Hardwood garden peg
Looking left to right on the photograph: Test 1 (written in permanent marker) is a single brushing of the ebonizing fluid. Test 2 shows a brushing of fluid which was allowed to dry, then a single brushing of strong black tea was added (to provide tannin for a darker reaction). Test 3 was only ebonizing fluid, showing 5 coats - each pass was allowed to dry before the next was added.




2) Radiata pine
A few chips from an offcut of construction pine. Showing end-grain and side-grain.
Test 1 was dipped…

Steps for Making Ebonizing Fluid

For anyone interested in ebonizing timber I found this little kitchen experiment to be highly satisfying. Rather than telling half the story, here are the steps I followed.

1) The Rusty Brew
The crust on top of the fluid is just foam that has been frothed by the gases given off as the reaction takes place. This rather horrible looking concoction in the first photograph is simply a variety of rusty items (steel wool and small nails) to which I have added about a litre of plain white vinegar.

To check if its working, you can use the fluid as is after a few days, however your timber will get stained by the rust that is in suspension. Probably you don`t what to achieve a psychedelic swirly pattern on your work so some sort
of filtering is required.
2) First filtering attempt
The coffee filter I tried did not work well, the fluid ran through it too quickly and the remaining solution was still cloudy. Photograph indicates the rust sludge it did manage to extract.

A funnel with a peice of ordinary…

Beef up your tool box with some low cost consumables

Every self-styled weekend warrior dreams of their next tool purchase - when in reality many expensive tools are really only needed for highly specialised work, or to achieve something faster than hand tools allow. For those just starting to get their tool kit together, before you go and buy a drop saw or belt sander, make sure you have the consumables that will help you get jobs done quickly and professionally without spending every weekend running back and forth to the hardware store. Compared to buying another power tool you will find these items are relatively cheap and useful in a wide variety of situations.

1. An all purpose lubricant, protectant, preserver and squeak stopper. ($5-$15)
Currently I am hooked on a product called Ballistol but there are many similar aerosol products in this category. Endlessly useful, including for applications such as cleaning up sticky, messy and grime covered items (the window washer pump of my 1976 Diesel sedan springs to mind).

2. Some decent hac…

Old tools are good tools

The side cutters and pliers pictured were made long before I was born, and by the time I was old enough to start getting interested in tools they had been packed up, moved around, and separated from one another as newer, cheaper and shinier (but not better) tools were purchased to replace them. They sat in crates in the back of the family garage waiting for me to return them to their former glory.

The thing about these tools which you notice when you compare them to newer but inferior substitutes is the quality of the steel they are made from. They have a firm closing action and tightly fitting jaws. The side-cutters snip hard stock cleanly and easily. Bought new, they would be quite expensive, and thus most mainstream hardware stores wouldn`t bother stocking them (not when they can import cheap sets offering 10 different pliers for $30).

Some ideas about finding quality tools at outrageously low prices:

1) Some people may be happy for their tools simply to go to a good home
Talking to pe…

Finding peace in the hardware store

One of the shops I am quite happy to not get any service in is a hardware store. I find simply wandering the aisles looking at different products is a good source of inspiration and ideas, and I never leave without feeling like I have learned something. Whilst some shop assistants are truly fonts of knowledge, I find too many of them want to solve my problem and get me out the door as quickly as possible, when in fact I simply seek solitude and quiet reflection, browsing the tools I love.

This is easy to do in the suburban super-stores you can wander for days without ever sighting a staff member. The smaller city stores (there are 3 within 5 minutes stroll of Martin Place in Sydney) are more of a challenge. If like me you are simply seeking a mental break from your day job here are some sure fire ways to get that helpful shop assistant off your back.

1) Go obscure
Ask for something you know they don`t have, the more ridiculous the better so they don`t waste your time actually looking for…

Too Big to Tackle

Recently I had the pleasure of meeting a hobbyist cabinetmaker who manages to turn out an amazing quantity of high quality work, outside of his professional 9-5 career. He shared a few of his secrets:

1) Keep a list of "Whats next"
There are always small jobs that need to be done as part of larger steps. Knowing what comes next allows you to use spare minutes on a weekday eveing and thus avoid wasting precious hours on Saturday and Sunday. In 15 minutes you can sharpen a chisel, apply a coat of finish to a small item, or set up a power tool.

2) Dont rush
Some stages simply take time. Not allowing enough time for paint to dry isnt going to save time, it wastes time through rework and an inferior final product. Find other things you can do while you are waiting to proceed to the next stage.

3) All set up, make the most of it
It takes time to set up tools. Once you have gone to the trouble of setting up a table saw, adjusting the jig and so forth, it doesn`t take much longer to cut 1…

Ebonizing Fluid

I mentioned ebonizing fluid in my last (or rather first) post. This is a solution used to turn wood black. The item pictured in the photograph, a replica tonfa style baton for martial arts training is a example of something that looks kind of cool with a shiny black finish.

1) Making rust
If you don`t have some rusty nails etc handy, throw a packet of the cheapest steel wool you can find into an icecream container and add a centimetre of water. Slosh it around to wet the wool. You want the wool to be damp but not immersed as too much water will actually keep the oxygen out, and you need the oxygen to get into the steel to produce the iron oxide. In days the wool will be brittle and rusty, if you stir it a bit with a stick you will find it makes a lovely mess. If you do have some rusty items handy, use that and skip this step. There is nothing special about steel wool other than the huge surface area allows it to rust quickly.

2) Add the vinegar
The vinegar dissolves the rust and forms iro…