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Showing posts from April 19, 2009

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…