Wood Into Sawdust

I take good wood and turn it into sawdust

My 2nd Annual Pen Turning Marathon

For the past two years, I’ve taken vacation from roughly Dec 24 thru Jan 2. One of my vacation highlights is turning about a dozen different pens using the same wood. This serves a few purposes:

  1. It allows me to see how the same wood looks with different pen kits. I find some woods look better in larger profile pens, others in the smaller profiles.
  2. It allows me to use up any oddball lengths of wood that I have lying around.
  3. It’s fun.

For my 2014 marathon, I decided to use a long piece of hard maple that had been lying around my shop for over four years. In preparation, I went to my box of pen kits and chose a dozen kits ranging from the basic slimline all the way up to a Nouveau Sceptre.

I moved on to the next stage of preparation by laying the kits out on my bench with their respective bushings and manuals. To complete the setup, I staged all the necessary drill bits at my drill press station.

Blanks cut, tubes glued in, barrels trimmed. Ready to turn!!!

For the most part, everything went well. I did run into a few gotchas along the way such as having a few of the kits turn out to be the SAME kit, just a different name/reseller (which is very annoying BTW).  I also should have re-read the instructions for each kit first because it would have saved me from making a few mistakes.

For example, one kit looked like a regular slimline, but wasn’t. It was meant to be used with a larger bushing set because the center band was bigger. And I messed up on another pen where I had to turn a tenon to hold the center band. For that particular pen, I actually had highlighted in yellow some of the instructions so I would know to pay attention to them.  Here’s a photo of the two pens:


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Reminds of an old saying: Complacency and comfort breed errors.

In the end, after all my grumbling and cursing was over, I had ten complete pens. None of them look stunning in hard maple so I’ve learned not to do that again.

Here are pics of this years marathon:

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Here is a pic from last years marathon.

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Click for larger photo


March 17, 2015 Posted by | lessons, pens, Projects | , , | Leave a comment

Working with Spectraply and using General Finishes Wood Turners Finish

Over the last four years or so, I made a few slimline pens using Spectraply blanks. I recently decided to go a bit larger in the format and made a few Navigator style pens as well as a few bottle stoppers. While I was at it, I turned a few bowls and used General Finishes Wood Turners Finish on them. And finally just for grins, I used the GF finish on a Spectraply bottle stopper to see how it would work.

Let’s go in reverse and start this post with the General Finishes Wood Turners Finish. I actually picked up a can almost a year ago and used it on a bowl I made last spring/early summer. I didn’t know how to apply it so I took a paper towel, dipped it into the can, and wiped some onto the bowl (spinning slowly on the lathe). Did this four or five times and got a decent finish. That was it. I sealed the can and promptly forgot about it.

Fast forward to this January where I was working on another bowl and came across the GF finish in my chemical storage cabinet. I thought to myself that since it worked well last time I’ll try it again. As is my usual, my results were not repeatable. I don’t know why, but my paper towel wipe on method did not work well. So I perused some websites and saw a video on using an airbrush system to apply the GF finish. Just so happens my local Woodcraft was having a 15% off sale so I took advantage of it to buy an airbrushing system.

I sort of got lazy when turning the bowl and left a few tearouts. I tried cleaning them up, but just had no luck. Well let me tell you, I had such a horrible time airbrushing that by the time I had actually finished the bowl, it was nice and smooth. Each attempt at airbrushing either resulted in bubbles/orange peel type finish or massive runs. I increased airflow, decreased airflow, increased amount of finish, decreased amount of finish, and multiple permutations thereof. Still got a sucky finish that had to be sanded back down to bare wood. I must have sanded the bowl at least six times, thus eventually taking care of the tearouts.

So what did I do? I tried another paper towel and as my usual karma, this time it worked. %&#*@!    Nice, smooth finish that feels quite durable.

Now let’s talk Spectraply.

This stuff is a dream to turn. Super easy, no noticeable degradation of my tools, and it sands real easy too. Too easy actually. I normally don’t notice any major wood dust coming off my pens at around 600 grit or so. Yes, I see the dust on the sandpaper, just not flying off into the air. With Spectraply, I was well into the middle grits of Micro Mesh before I stopped noticing the dust flying off the wood. Makes me wonder if I should have been wearing a dust mask to augment my dust collector.

Anyway, for the pens I used my typical CA finish. The pens came out really nice and I have to admit that I like the looks of the “rainbow” Spectraply.

For my bottle stoppers, I used the GF Wood Turners Finish. Using the paper towel method, I found that the green color ran. I couldn’t find any staining on the bottle stopper, but I did end up with green paper towels. After the fourth coat, I decided to try something new that I have never done before and that is: the dip method. Yup, I took the bottle stopper and dipped it directly into the can. To prevent runs, I put the stopper back on my lathe and let the lathe run for 10 minutes at 55rpm. After another 30 minutes of drying, another dip into the can. Rinse, Repeat. I did this for about 10 coats. I must say that this produced a wonderfully smooth finish that feels quite nice to the touch. Yes, it feels a little plasticky (like plastic) but I am OK with that. I’m going to try a few different woods with this method of finishing and if they turn out just as nice as the Spectraply, I will be very happy and say that I have a new favorite finish & method of finishing bottle stoppers.

Here’s some photos (click on them for larger images):


March 16, 2015 Posted by | bowls, finishing, pens, turning | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mr. Murphy, Please Repeal Your Law

I got lucky around tax time and received permission from SWMBO to buy a new lathe. I was previously using a Jet midi lathe that was causing me a few problems when attempting to work on larger bowls. No need to get into the details, but the problems were nothing that a larger lathe couldn’t fix.  🙂

I did a lot of research, talked to lots of people, and suffered through my usual “paralysis through analysis” before finally deciding to purchase a Jet JWL-1642-2EVS, 16″ x 42″ EVS PRO. It’s got the swing I am looking for, the ability to move the headstock to the end of the bed for some really large turning if needed, plenty of horse power, and it’s a brand that I am comfortable with.

As seems to be my lot in my woodworking life, purchasing and using a new tool is fraught with peril. To start with, when I placed my order with my local retailer, I asked for it to be drop shipped. No problem, but the retailer gave me the standard disclaimer that I may need to unload it from the truck since their freight company is not obliged to unload at residential locations. No problem I said.

A few weeks later, I get a call from the retailer telling me that my lathe had arrived. “Great”, said I followed by, “When is it going to be delivered?” Nothing but silence from the other end of the phone. (Murphy’s first appearance) I reminded the retailer to check the paperwork about drop shipping. A few hours later the lathe was delivered to my house.

After it was unloaded, I had to call a neighbor for some help with assembly. The main part (bed and headstock) was quite heavy so I needed a bit of muscle to get it out of the box and up onto my workbench

Lathe in box

Lathe in box

Once on the workbench, I was able to assemble it by myself, but needed my neighbors help in getting it off the workbench and into its final resting place. We had to move it from the front of the shop/garage to one of the back corners.


Did I mention that this lathe is heavy? Good thing I had a few homemade furniture dollies in the shop. Once it was in its final resting place, Murphy made another appearance.

I didn’t think about it until a few weeks later, but that spot also serves as my spray booth. With my previous lathe there, whenever I needed to spray, I just moved the lathe out of the way. Real easy to do. Not so with the new lathe. Oh well. I can always move the booth somewhere else. In the meantime, it serves as a shavings catcher. No more cleaning up in strange places.


Anyway, back on day one…Lathe assembled, check. Lathe in place, check. Lathe wired up for house connection, check. Chuck mounted, that’s a negative. Murphy checked in one more time. Turns out my midi lathe has a smaller spindle. Had to run down to my retailer to purchase a new insert. Before I made the 25 minute drive, I called ahead and inquired about a new, much larger chuck made by Oneway. “Sure”, said the retailer, “We don’t sell too many of that one so we have it in stock.” Famous last words. I made the drive to drive to find out the chuck was not in stock. After much hemming and hawing, I settled on a SuperNova2. It may have been a bit fortuitous in that regard because it allows me to use the jaws from my smaller chuck, which was also a Nova brand.

OK, back to turning. Chuck mounted, check. Tools sharpened, check. Blanks cut and semi rounded on the bandsaw, check. I proceeded to turn two bowls. One had a blowout that I filled with epoxy, the other gave me the nastiest rash all over my chest, neck, and arms that took three prescription medications and three weeks to go away. Talk about three miserable weeks. Managed to scratch myself bloody the first day. At least now I know that I am allergic to Leopardwood.

Rosewood bowl

Rosewood bowl

First day of rash

First day of rash












I have yet to complete the first bowl, but I did manage to finish the Leopardwood bowl. I actually finished it before the rash presented itself.

Since I like to make pens and bottle stoppers, I gave a few of them a whirl too. No problem turning pens. Bottle stoppers was a different story. HELLOOOOO Murphy. A lot of people make pens using a mandrel that is mounted in some sort of drill chuck. I don’t like this type of setup for a few reasons. 1st, ever had a drill bit slip? That’s what this setup is really like – a drill bit in a drill chuck. 2nd, the drill chucks are mounted via a morse taper. This means that a good catch on the material can make the chuck loosen and come out.   So to avoid these two downsides, I use a bottle stopper chuck from PSI. It actually screws on to the lathe spindle. As an added plus, it also acts like a sizing bushing. Just turn the end down to the size of the chuck and you have a nice fit. Anyway, it should be obvious to you now that I encountered the same problem from before when mounting my scroll chuck. Yep, different spindle sizes. I was able to find an adapter at my local retailer. The bottle stopper chuck cost me $10, the adapter $40. Here are some photos showing what I mean.


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Murphy only made one more appearance. I apparently did not drill down far enough into an acrylic bottle stopper blank before mounting on my chuck. Guess what happens when you try to mount something that hasn’t been drilled to proper depth? With most woods, not much. With acrylic….












So please, Mr. Murphy…Please repeal your law.





July 1, 2014 Posted by | bowls, Shop Equipment, turning | , , , | Leave a comment

My Jewelry Armoire …prototype

I usually do one big project a year.  For 2013, it was a jewelry armoire that my wife has wanted me to build her for the past five years.  I figured it would be a piece of cake since it basically a bookcase with drawers.  Nope, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

To get started, I looked around at what other people have built and even purchased a set of U-Build plans.  True to form, nothing quite matched what I wanted so I did a little redesign of the U-Build plans and got to work building.

I should have known that this project was not going to go well when my plywood decided to go all wonky on me after I had routed all the dadoes and rabbits, as well as cutting the pieces down to final size.  Nothing that a lot of clamps wouldn’t cure, but it was foreshadowing events to come.


My learning experience began with the glue-up. Two lessons were taught to me on that day. First, “never glue-up on hot days”.  For those new to my blog, I live in Arizona.  In this instance, I did my main glue-up when it was over 105 degrees in my garage shop.  As you can see from the picture below, I was not able to complete the clamping before the glue set.  So what if my armoire has a slight bow in it.  🙂  This bow would come into play later when adding the side attachments for necklace storage.  Sigh.


The second rule I learned is that “you can never have enough clamps”.  I used all my parallel clamps and then some.  Final count was 16 clamps.  I have rectified this situation and now have 22 parallel clamps.


Things went pretty smoothly making the drawers and drawer fronts.  My wife likes contrasting colors so I made the drawer fronts out of Purpleheart.  Here’s a picture with the drawers installed, but before I thicknessed the fronts down to size.


It was at this point that I learned my next lesson and that is to “Sand interior parts before assembly”.  I forgot to sand everything before glue-up and putting the back on.  I did my best, but it didn’t go well.  Thankfully, most people won’t take the drawers out and feel around the interior to see how well it was sanded.

Next, I  made WhateverYouCallTheBoxesWhereNecklacesGo.  Remember the bow from gluing up when it was too hot in my garage?  Yep, one side closes flush, the other does not.    Other than that, the only issues I encountered were tear-out on the plywood (didn’t use my zero clearance insert) and a little too much sanding.  Nothing that can’t be fixed by using some putty, right?  Famous last words.

Things seemed to progress smoothly until it was time to flock the drawers.  I have never flocked before so I didn’t really know how to do it other than spread the color matched glue and puff the flock material onto the glue.  Did you know you really have to “force” the flock into the glue?  I didn’t.  After all my flock came off, I sent an email to the flock maker and I got the answer to what I did wrong.  Not gentle use of the applicator, but FORCEFUL.  Basically, you need hurricane class force out the applicator.  BTW, flocking is messy business.  I built a small version of a spray booth to control the “over-spray”.  It worked really well.  In fact, you can see all the leftover flock material in photo below.


Finally, I was just about done.  All I needed to do was apply a finish….and learn another lesson.  That lesson is to “Think about the finish throughout the build”.  I said earlier that I used putty to cover up tear out and some over sanding of plywood.  I should have thought this through a bit more.  Why?  Because I wasn’t planning on staining or painting.  My plan was to apply a clear coat to bring out the contrast between the maple case and Purpleheart drawers.  Did you know that putty shows up wonderfully under a clear coat?  Yep, that nice clear coat really highlights the putty.  Really, really, really highlights it.

So how did the jewelry armoire turn out?  Not too bad actually.  Here’s a few pictures.  And there is even a scale in the photo to provide scale. 🙂  You will notice that the necklace storage on the right doesn’t close all the way.  As mentioned earlier, that is caused by gluing up at the wrong time and not having got the clamps on in time.


All-in-all, it was a fun project.  One that I will probably repeat.  I made enough noticeable mistakes that I call it a prototype.  There are also a few design changes that I would make as well in areas such as the feet, back panel, and drawer sizing.  Basically, all the areas that I deviated from the U-Build plans.



March 6, 2014 Posted by | finishing, lessons, Projects | , , | Leave a comment

Life Lessons Learned from Woodworking

When I first started out in woodworking, it was all to accomplish a single task.  My pet and companion of 10 years had died.  I had her remains cremated and she was returned to me in a cardboard box.  She deserved more so I took a woodworking class in order to gain the skills needed to make her a nice box.  The class was held at a local high school via a community college offering.  Since the class was 16 weeks long, the instructor wanted me to make something a bit more substantial so I decided to make something I needed: a coffee table.  It actually took me two semesters given absences, short amounts of time in shop, etc.  The table came out pretty nice so I decided I would build a few more items and that is how I ended up with woodworking as a hobby.

As for the box…10 yrs later and I am still trying to get proficient to the level that she deserves.  Along my journey of building up my woodworking skills, I’ve built a number of projects: bookcases, some not-so-nice small boxes, a kitchen island, some shelving, cutting boards, pens, bottle stoppers, bowls, shop/utility furniture, and more.

I’ve also learned a number of lessons from woodworking that I noticed have translated into my everyday life.  My woodworking journey has become more than that; it’s become part of my life’s evolution.  Below is some of what I have learned.  Maybe you’ll find that you have also learned these lessons, but haven’t articulated them in the same way.  Maybe you are on your own journey and are in process of learning these lessons.  Either way, enjoy.

Lesson #1: I’ve learned not to purchase tools that leave me feeling uncomfortable.  While pretty much any tool can outperform me, I feel more comfortable with the higher quality products and/or those with specific features.  And that comfort level affects my work quite a bit.

My first tablesaw was a Jet SuperSaw with sliding table.  I didn’t order the sliding attachment and I was hesitant when I received it, but I got it gratis due to an ordering snafu on the part of my retailer.  Sliding table sounds nice, doesn’t it?  Well, when you are a beginner and every video and book out there pretty much shows jigs/methods using the left miter slot and your tablesaw doesn’t have one, what do you do?  In my case, suffer.  I’m not an engineer, so trying to modify jigs and methods of work was just plain frustrating.

Once I upgraded to a full-sized cabinet saw that had both left and right miter slots, the quality and enjoyment of my woodworking greatly improved.  I took this stance with a few other tools this year and have definitely noticed the difference.  I upgraded some of my measuring/marking tools to brands such as Incra, Woodpeckers, and Starrett and I now find that my work seems to be a bit more square and accurate.  Is it that the products are that much better or is it that my confidence in the products makes me a better woodworker?  I’m going with the latter.

So what’s the life lesson here?  For me, it’s go with my gut and buy what makes me feel comfortable and confident. Focusing on price when I have the wherewithal is bad ju-ju and brings nothing but misery.

Lesson #2: I don’t have to be a miser with shop supplies.  For some reason, I would use a piece of sandpaper until it fell apart and I would use paper towels until there was not a clean spot left.  No drops of glue and finish could be found on my bench. Yes, I was that miserly.  It’s not like I can’t afford those products. I was just being an idiot.  Rather than focusing on the woodworking and enjoyment it could bring me, I was focused on saving pennies.  There is a saying that goes something like “Don’t sweat the small stuff”.  Shop supplies are small stuff.    The real lesson learned here is to focus on the important stuff.

Lesson#3: I’ve learned to think things through a bit more.  When I first started out, I would blindly follow the project plans to a T, mistakes and all.  Did you ever notice the corrections page in a woodworking magazine?  Seems like the smart thing for a beginner to do is wait an issue or two to see if there are any corrections to be had.   Now, I read the plans all the way through before I purchase any materials and I think the process through in my head.  Sometimes I can find the mistakes, sometimes I can’t.

It’s amazing how much more successful I am in home repair, day job, and other endeavors when I take a few minute to think about what I am going to do instead of just rushing in and doing.

Lesson #4: There is nothing wrong with being efficient.  When I first started woodworking as a hobby, I subscribed to all the magazines and watched as many woodworking shows as possible.  It was clear to me that these folks were professionals because everything they did had a certain economy about it. I originally thought that this took some of the fun away from the woodworking process because everything seemed so fixed in place – do this first, do this second, etc.  I now know this not to be the case and that efficiency can actually bring more enjoyment.  Efficiency brings progress and as a woodworker, that is something I definitely want to see.

I can’t say that I see myself being more efficient outside of woodworking, but I may just need some more time for it to creep into my life.  Or I just may not be currently able to recognize it.

I am still on my journey and am looking forward to many more lessons learned.  So what have you learned from your woodworking journey that has carried over in to your everyday life?

July 7, 2013 Posted by | lessons | , , , , , | Leave a comment

More Working with Dyes

Here are a few more photos of some recent experimenting with dyes.  I chose some new colors for this round: Bordeaux, orange, green, and turquoise.  Of this batch, I like orange the best.  However, I think my favorite so far is Honey Maple.  My original post can be found here.  Enjoy.

Click on each one for a larger view.

DSC03111 DSC03112 DSC03113 DSC03115 DSC03116

April 28, 2013 Posted by | finishing | , | Leave a comment

My Quest to Make the Perfect Pen

Us woodworkers are a funny lot.  Each of us has a method of doing something.  Some insist that their method is the only correct method, others acknowledge other methods but imply theirs is better.  And then there are folks like me who believe that there are multiple equally good methods to get something done and that I’ll choose to use the method that best gets me to my goal.  That decision can be based on my skillset, time, desired outcomes, tools available, etc.  And that decision can change over time as factors change.

Here is a great example:  I make pens as just something to do.  I make them when I come off a woodworking hiatus.  I make them when I want to make something and want gratification of completing a project that same day.  I make them as gifts.  I make them just because.   And I must say I do a good job at it.  Not great, but good.  So how do I go from good to great?

I’ve watched numerous videos, attended seminars, and more on pen making.  During a number of them, I’ve heard that a pen maker could spend a couple of hours finishing a pen.  Hours?  You’re kidding me, right?  I’ve handled a few of these pens and I can’t say that they are finished that much better than mine and I spend 30 minutes at most on finishing.  I’ve always chalked the difference up to the method for applying the finish.

So I decided to try different finishing methods this weekend to see how long they take.  I can see how some methods take more time than others, but barring the use of a medium that takes hours to dry, I still couldn’t find a method that took more than an hour.

That got me thinking about the process of pen making and the definition of finishing.  Many of us assume finishing means applying some sort of coating.  In reality, the process starts much earlier.  I would say that it starts with sanding.  Some folks who turn will say it begins with the last pass of the turning tool.  Regardless, we are both saying that applying a coating is not the beginning of the finishing process.

With that thinking in mind, I went back into the shop and paid particular attention to my “finishing”.  I found that when I was this focused, I did take quite a bit longer.  I also deviated from my normal methodology.

You see, as a person who primarily deals with the world of square I know that no matter how I sand, the last few passes have to go with the grain.  When it comes to spindle work (yes, a pen is a small spindle), a lot of us forget this rule and only sand against the grain by letting the motion of the lathe do the work for us.  I found that by also sanding with the grain at each grit added about 10 minutes to my normal sanding time of 10 minutes.  In essence, I doubled the amount of time I would normally spend sanding.

With the sanding completed, it was time to turn to cleaning the pen.  Cleaning?  Yes, of course.  I just sanded so now I had to remove all the dust from the pen.  I normally just blow the dust off, but this time I also added a step of cleaning the pen with a paper towel moistened with Naptha.  This got more of the finer dust off and helped clean out the pores.  It also highlighted any sanding mistakes that needed fixing.  This step added about 10 more minutes since I had to do some re-sanding.  Some folks use mineral spirits instead of Naptha.  Same reasons, but mineral spirits take longer to dry than Naptha.

I was finally ready to add a coating after a total of 30 minutes sanding and cleaning.  Keep in mind that this is a pen…just a piece of wood about ½” thick and 4” long.

At this point, I re-examined my method for applying my favorite pen finish: medium thickness CA glue.  I normally use a method that I’ve seen quite a bit on YouTube.  It goes like this: take a paper towel and cut it in half the long way.  Fold a piece longways a few times so you end up with a long, thin (maybe 1” width) multi-ply piece to work with. Add a few drops of Boiled Linseed Oil (BLO) to the towel and then add a slightly larger portion of CA glue.  With the lathe on a slow speed setting, rub the pen back & forth furiously with the wet towel.  After a few seconds, turn the speed of the lathe up.   DON’T STOP RUBBING THE PEN!

At this point, some YouTubers would apply an accelerant.  Me; I’ve not had much luck with accelerant so I do it the longer way.  You can tell when the glue is curing by the nasty smell that burns your eyes and throat.  A smart person wears a respirator that is designed for fumes.  Since I am a smart person, I go by the clock, not the smell.

I stop rubbing at around the 45 second mark.  My normal method is to continue on with additional coats, but in the past I’ve noticed that some of my pens (particularly open grained woods) would fog up a few hours later.  I’ve learned that this was because I was applying subsequent coats of CA glue before the previous coat had cured enough.    So for this experiment I decided to wait 3 minutes between coats.

Since I normally apply ten coats of finish, this meant I just added 30 additional minutes to the process. Factor in the time for adding the BLO, CA Glue, rubbing, etc and I came out to about 75 minutes total for the finishing process.  Definitely not a couple of hours as others claim, but more than twice my usual 30 minutes.

The results: just short of amazing.  I achieved the shine, the feel, and the look that I wanted to achieve.  It’s clear that the extra effort pays off.  Take a look for youself in the photos below.  Same pen, one with flash, the other without.

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April 22, 2013 Posted by | finishing, pens, Projects | , , , | Leave a comment

Oh WoodWhisperer, How I Curse Thee!

Ok, so it’s not really fair to call Marc out like this.  This post could just as easily have been titled, “How square is square”, or “How precise is precise enough?” and other variants.  I chose Marc because I watch all his videos and I respect him as a woodworker and educator.  And because he has a sense of humor.

Anyway, my issues started out last summer when I was working on building a bookcase.  I normally create the dadoes for the shelves using a handheld router and guide, but for some reason I chose to cut them on a table saw.  You can read all about it three or four posts back to get all the gory details of the problems I encountered.  I finally decided to track down the root cause of the misalignment and found that my table saw was in dire need of tuning.  So I turned to my favorite vlog (video blog) to check out videos on tool tune-ups.

Marc has some really good videos so I did my best at tuning up my table saw.  Of course, changing TS alignment threw off a number of my jigs so I had to go and build new ones.

My first attempt at building a cross-cut sled went fine until it was time to align the main fence.  I followed the procedure that Marc used in his cross-cut sled video, but when I tested it using the 5-cut method, I could visually see that I was off. No need to measure. I was that off.  I found the problem to be that the fence moved slightly while I was drilling the holes for the screws.  No matter how hard I tried to align the fence, I just couldn’t get it dialed in properly because the fence would move or something else would go out of whack when I drilled the screw holes.  Time to start cursing Marc and the other talented folks out there who seem to get things right quite often on the first or second try.

So on to sled number two.  This time I used the dial indicator method and was able to get it dialed in decently, but then when I went to lock down the fence I noticed a slight bow in it that I couldn’t straighten out.  My bad for using old plywood.  If it was solid wood, I could have repaired it via jointer and planer.

So on to sled attempt number three.  If you learned anything about my woodworking, you’ll have learned that the saying “Third time’s the charm” is my slogan.  For this iteration, I used a combination of Marc’s method and the dial indicator method.  Both seemed to agree so I locked down the fence using glue instead of screws.  Two hours later I tried the 5-cut test.  I was off again.  But how off was I and did it matter.  Over 70”, I was off by .085”.    This is where the verbal cursing rose to a crescendo.  Why?  Because Marc got it to .005” his first try and then was able to fine tune it down to .001” over 20”. As he put it, that’s CRAZY GOOD.

Now I am not the most brilliant woodworker out there so there I was thinking that my sled was way off.  Not only that, I glued the fence down so there really was no way to fix it.   Frustrated, I cut my day short and went into the house to stew.  That’s when it dawned on me that I was .085” off over 70”.  That’s actually not too bad.  If I do my math right, that’s about 1/50” over 17.5” or so.

The big question now is: Is 1/50” over 17” good enough?  I don’t know, but I would guess that it probably isn’t for all around work.  It really depends on what you are making and how much knowing being off that much would bug you.

If I was only making small boxes that were no taller than six inches, I would say my sled is just fine.  I don’t think I would notice being less than 1/64”out.  Then again, maybe I would.  In fact, I know I would.  Why?  Because I am one of those folks that “knowing” I was off would bug the crap out of me.  Doesn’t matter if anyone else would notice.

I’ll keep this sled and give sled building one more shot.  Whichever one turns our better, I’ll keep.

If my 1/50” is just fine, do pros like Marc, Norm, David, and the like cause problems for the rest of us?  Am I being conditioned to strive for an unreasonable amount of precision?  Again, I think not.  We should always strive to do our best and produce a quality product.  It’s just that these guys do it better and I see what is possible and think that I have to match it.  And when I can’t match them, I curse them.

April 16, 2013 Posted by | jigs | , , | 5 Comments

The Agony and Ecstasy of Purchasing a New Tool

Most people get excited when it comes time to buy a new tool.  Me, I experience both sides of the emotional spectrum.  By profession, I am in the tech industry.  I started out as a hobbyist/enthusiast building my own computers…it grew into building computers for friends and then into an actual career.  So I spend a lot of time looking a spec sheets, reviews, etc.  In my professional life, I match the computer to the workload.  In my private life, it’s all about bragging rights.

For some strange reason, this does not translate into my woodworking life.  Oh, I still read all the specs and drool over the really high-end equipment out there.    And when I am in the market for a new tool, I save up as though I am going to buy that big, fancy, powerful, way-more-than-I-need piece of machinery.  Then buyer’s remorse sets in…and that’s before I’ve made my purchase.   I guess it has something to do with my inexperience in woodworking and how that makes me feel way out of my comfort zone in the decision making process.

Here is my latest agony and ecstasy:   I purchased a small, used dust collector about 3-4 yrs ago.  It works as advertised, but it just doesn’t do a good enough job.  It has a 5micron cloth filter, gets clogged when used with a jointer, leaves about 50% of material inside my table saw, and all around leaks dust.  The worst part of it is that it does not accept disposable bags.  This means I have to empty the bag every so often and inhale all that dust I’m trying to get rid of.  Sounds like time for a new dust collector, right?

I bought a book on dust collection, read lots of magazine articles and reviews, perused many websites, and finally came to the conclusion that I need a cyclone style dust collector.  Except I don’t.  But I do.  Not really.  ARGH!!!!

This vacillation has been going on for over a year now.  Just when I think I’ve made up my mind, some new info comes in and I change my mind.  The term for this is “Paralysis through analysis”.  The fear of making the wrong decision causes you to keep analyzing the existing data over and over again and looking for new data before committing to a course of action.

What I finally decided on was that I just needed something to deal with the complaints that I have about my small dust collector.  It actually simplified things a bit (just a bit).  My requirements are:

  • 1 micron or better filter.  Preferably HEPA or MERV rated without going aftermarket
  • Lots of CFM and static pressure so that it can deal with my jointer and table saw
  • Uses disposable bags
  • And while not listed above, mobile.  Everything in my shop has to be on wheels.

These requirements narrowed down my options quite a bit.  In the cyclone family, it left only the smallest units from a few manufacturers.  For single-stage units, it also eliminated a number of manufacturers.

I added another area for analysis that further reduced the field. That bit of info was that I really don’t get much shop time.  I live in Arizona and work out of my garage.  No air conditioning and no heat other than what nature provides.  That means I only have about six months out of the year for woodworking.  Throw in other interests, time commitments, and such which leaves me only about 30hrs a month for woodworking.

Given that little amount of shop time, I decided to go the frugal route.  Which dust collector met my requirements at the most reasonable (to me) cost?  I chose to go with the Grizzly G0548zp.  I’ve recently been reading about people having problems with Grizzly tools, but I have a Grizzly bandsaw and have been very happy with it so going with Grizzly was not a concern for me.

I placed my order and four days later, the dust collector arrived.  Ecstasy time.  And then I opened the box.  As I started to unpack the components, I noticed that part of the Styrofoam shipping material was in pieces.  Ruh Roh Shaggy.   No cause for alarm yet because things still looked good.  Then I got to the motor and its connected component.  One corner is bent over 45 degrees out of shape.  Agony time.

I looked at the box again and noticed that that particular corner was scuffed.  I didn’t think anything of it when I received the unit because I have never had a box arrive from anyone that didn’t have some sort of scratch, discoloration, whatever…just the nature of shipping.   Well, I pushed in on the scuffed area and it just collapsed.  Obviously something crushed that side of the box, but it (the box) bounced back.

Being the weekend, I can’t call customer service to discuss a course of action.  More agony. More agony.  More agony…with potentially some ecstasy in sight.

Here are some photos of the damage.

DSC03023 DSC03034








March 10, 2013 Posted by | Safety, Shop Equipment | , , | Leave a comment

Searching For a Sprayer, Life with a Fuji Mini-Mite 3

Spraying finish has only a mild appeal to me.  I can see the value for large projects, but really don’t do that many large projects.  Maybe one a year.  The rest of the time, I make small items such as boxes, pens, some bowls, and other knick-knacks.  A such, I have not had the need for a spray system.

As mentioned in a previous post, I had a commission to build a bookcase this summer and ended up building three of them when all was said & done.   Finishing three bookcases was not something I wanted to do by hand.  Given the temperatures out here in the summer (I live in Arizona), it just seemed like it would take forever.  So I opted for spraying.

Not having a spray system of my own, I called a friend of mine to see if I could use his system.  Well, more like use his shop.  He has his own 1600 sq. ft. shop with a dedicated spray booth.  To top it off, he has both the old compressor style spray system and a newer HVLP system from Apollo.  I figured it would be a good opportunity to try both out and see the differences myself.  It took a while to get a hold of him and I didn’t get the “Yes” I was hoping for when I asked to use his shop.  It’s been such a long while since I have talked to him I didn’t know his shop closed.  Drat!

So I found myself in the market for a spray system.  Now I am more of an instant gratification type person when it comes to buying things.  I’ll do tons of research on something and when I decide to purchase, the retailer that has what I am looking for in stock gets my $$$.  I’m not willing to wait a week or two for something to be shipped, particularly when under a time crunch.

I knew my local Woodcraft sold Apollo and I knew a number of folks who had Apollo and were quite happy with them.  Apollo spray systems cost a bit more than I wanted to spend, but I’d rather buy quality than buy a second (replacement) system later.  Off to Woodcraft and guess what?  Out of stock.  I called to verify stock before driving down, but the salesperson didn’t do a good job of checking.  He looked and saw some sprayers on display, but didn’t notice that they were the higher-end 4 stage units.  Way more than I was expecting (and willing) to spend.

Woodcraft also stocks Earlex so I did some quick checking and heard some OK reviews from folks I know who have them.  Notice the use of the word “OK”.  Not one of them was downright jumping with joy for the Earlex system.  Those that were the happiest seemed to focus on cost, not quality or ease of use.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for good pricing.  But I always hesitate when someone recommends a product because of cost.  For all I know, Earlex products can be very high-quality, it’s just not the first thing folks talk about when mentioning them.

I was feeling a bit beaten up at this point – see above about instant gratification.  I went home and called some more woodworkers, tweeted a few, and did more research.  Fuji HVLP systems came up time & time again. Everyone I talked to who had one like it very much and would buy it again if the need arose.    Did some pricing research and found Fuji to be in the range that I was expecting.  Of course I couldn’t find anyone local who carried that brand so I was forced to order online.

A few folks recommended that  I purchase from a company called Paint Sprayers Plus.  I checked their website and was a little daunted by the sheer number of sprayers to choose from.  I gave them a call and after about 5 minutes of Q&A, the sales rep directed me to a three stage unit.  Since I won’t be doing a ton of spraying and I won’t be spraying latex paint, he told me that I didn’t need some of the higher-end units that have sounds-dampening features or 4-stage turbines.  Sounded reasonable to me so I ended up purchasing a Fuji Mini-Mite 3 system with gravity gun.

It’s an interesting system in that it has the ability to control the size of the fan via a small knob on the gun and you can control air pressure via lever on the air hose.










Here’s some of the specs lifted from Paint Sprayers Plus’ website:

  • XPC Professional spray gun now features pattern control knob to adjust the size of fan pattern from a very narrow 1/4″ to 13″ wide.
  • Spray gun has 100% stainless steel fluid components, ergonomic handle is insulated and never gets hot.
  • Non-Bleed Spraygun for less blowing around of shop dust
  • High-Efficiency Aircap installed for reduced overspray
  • 25ft Hose includes Air Control Valve to reduce overspray and bounceback
  • Warranty – 24 months, Parts & Labor

After using it on one bookcase (two to go), I think I like it.  It’s not super loud, it’s easy to use, and I really like the fan, pattern, and air control capabilities.    I am not sure, but it may also be unique in that the fan control works in complete 360 degrees.  From videos I have watched on Youtube, the typical gun can either do a vertical or horizontal fan, but nothing in between.  Some even have detentes to help set the correct position.  Well, whether it is supposed to or not, I have managed to spray off the vertical and horizontal with the Fuji gun.  If it is by design, then it is just another interesting feature.  If not by design, then it is just another interesting feature.  🙂

One other little tidbit is that the turbine uses the ubiquitous power cord that comes with home computers.

About the only negative I can think of is the manual.  The manual was obviously written for the standard style spray guns where the cup is located on the bottom of the gun.  Sections will list instructions for doing something and then there will be a note that says something along the lines of “Not applicable to gravity gun”.

Filling the cup is another area that can possibly use some improvement.  I say “possibly” because I need to think a few things through first.  On a non-gravity gun, you take the cup off and put it beneath a filter stand and pour away.  The gravity gun cup doesn’t come off the gun so it adds a wrinkle to things.  I have seen stands designed for gravity guns, but I don’t own one.  But I do own a regular stand.  Why, since I didn’t have a spray gun before?  I have no idea.  I just do.  There is a little kick stand on the Fuji spray gun so I need to see if it will hold the cup up just right under a standard filter stand.  If so, forget that you read this paragraph.

Given the size of the hose connector, I’m curious to see if I can find another gun to use with this turbine.  The Fuji gun goes for over $300.   The connector looks like it is the same diameter as a garden hose.  When I look at photos of other spray guns online, their connections look to be at least ¼” smaller.

If I have any other thoughts, I’ll post them.

November 23, 2012 Posted by | Shop Equipment | , | Leave a comment