Thursday, July 12, 2018

Monogram Earrings

This is my first design for earrings in quite a while. I'm figuring out how build customized monogrammed pieces, within the printing, casting and polishing limitations of Shapeways' process.

It feels good to be back in the 3d-design mines again.

These ones are available at Shapeways at

Realistically, unless your initials, or those of you and your main squeeze are AF, they're probably not going to be quite the thing for you. I'm trying to figure out some method of making them user-configurable, but I suspect, considering the palaver involved in getting everything aligned and overlapped for printing, it will have to be done manually. Still, with two letters, there's less than a thousand possible combinations. How long could that take?

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Spokeshave Modification

I bought myself a couple of spokeshaves  from China for very little money. They're not very good quality, but they do work OK with a little bit of fettling. The irons take a decent edge, though how long that edge will last is anyone's guess.

The reason I bought them was because I wanted to see if I could reshape one successfully into a bellied spokeshave for cutting an inside radius, and if it's feasible (and workable) then I'll risk doing it on a better quality tool. The spokeshave on the right has had its leading edge filed down and rounded off for that purpose.

It does work somewhat, but it needs a bit more shaping I think. The front curve needs to be taken right up to the edge of the mouth, and the back edge should be curved away as well, as far as it can be without interfering with the blade adjustment screws. The much reduced sole area in contact with the wood makes the tool a bit more difficult to control, but that's only to be expected.

Friday, June 1, 2018

(Slight) Buyer's Regret: Dowel-forming Dies

4-die set. The plate has screw holes
in case you want to anchor it permanently,
but it isn't really necessary.

The die in use (cutaway)
I bought a set of Veritas metric dowel formers from Lee Valley (for more money than I really wanted to spend, but it's done now).…

They're good quality, but for the money I think you'd be better getting a manufacturing engineer to drill and heat-treat a ¼" plate with a range of hole sizes.

The separate dies are all very well, but if you're hammering dowels you get much cleaner results if you can take the dowel down in 1 or 0.5mm increments, and with this system you have to swap out the die each time. Also, there are only 12, 10, 8 and 6mm dies in the set, and a 2mm step is too much between each step really. You can hammer the dowels through OK, but it has a tendency to tear the dowel surface instead of shaving it, especially in an open-grained timber like oak.

Thursday, May 31, 2018


Bit by bit I'm sorting out places for all my hand-tools so that they're all in easy reach. Well, easyish reach, because I am something of a short-arse, and reaching over the workbench is sometimes a bit of a stretch. But all within reach anyway, easy or not.

This most recent spasm of organisation has been prompted by making a standing rack for all my most-used chisels (front right, by the battery drills). Up until now they've either been in a chisel roll, or more usually, just lying on a shelf or scattered about on my workbench waiting for an unguarded finger to pass by. This should keep them a bit more out of the way and accessible. All of my gouges — all the decent ones, at any rate — I keep in that box in front; they don't get as much use, so it's not such a problem having them all away in a box on a shelf.

That all seems like a lot of clutter, but I use everything here quite a lot. There are more tools out of shot as well — half a dozen more planes and various machines. Strictly speaking, you could probably do satisfactory woodworking with just a few well-selected tools. Personally, I like having choices.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Stung at last

New plane to the left, old plane to the right.
 I have been mercifully lucky with my online purchasing. Up until now.

I bought a Stanley 78 rebate (rabbet) plane on TradeMe, with the intention of repurposing it as a scrub plane. I had bought one a while ago to use in its intended role, so I thought I knew what I was getting; both of them ended up costing me about fifty bucks each. The photos on TradeMe indicated that it wasn't in mint condition, but they didn't reveal the true horror of the situation by any means.

Old plane above, new plane below.
The new plane is.... let's say it's a bit of a disappointment.

It's missing the fence, and it may never have had a depth-stop or nipper. It's missing the lever adjustment for the iron. It has a bodged-together replacement screw to tension the iron against the cap. It has been so corroded that the body looks like it's got woodworm, an indication that the steel its cast from was never of the best quality. It carries a US patent number rather than the English maker's marks, so I assume it's a US copy — probably a licenced copy, since it still bears the Stanley brand, and I suspect it pre-dates my English one.  It's been covered in thick blue paint, probably to disguise the extent of the corrosion.

I will give it one thing: it's got quite a comfortably-shaped grip.

It is probably still usable as I intend, as a scrub plane, though with the pitting of the sole it will never really be as good a tool as I'd hoped. However, if I'd hoped to be able to use it for its original purpose as a rebate plane, I'd be pretty much out of luck without doing a lot of work on it. Probably more work than it warrants.

This is maybe worth five or ten bucks as a curio to put on a shelf to look rustic next to a vase of flowers. I feel that I've been well and truly ripped off.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018


This double bead is done by means of a simple step-and-repeat using the basic single bead cutter.
This is the newest tool I've made for myself, a scratch-stock. It's made from oak, but just about any timber would do the job. I'd probably stick with a hardwood, just for durability.

Basically, it's just a holder for a shaped scraper. The scrapers can be shaped to produce beads, as shown here, or grooves for inlaying, or even complete mouldings. Usually a scratch-stock would be used for relatively small features, as the effort required to create the forms in the wood goes up greatly with the increase in the area of scraper in contact. In this case, the stock will take a maximum width of 35mm, and I doubt I'll ever get close to using that whole width.

I've made the scraper here out of a saw plate. I would have used an old plate, but I don't actually have one that's unusable as a saw and a pair of brand new throwaway saws only cost twelve bucks; they'll supply me with metal for scrapers and what-not for years. The steel is good and hard, but not so hard it can't be shaped with a file as long as you stay away from the edge with the hardened teeth.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

A Small Thing, But Mine Own

I found some old steel mapping pen nibs in the bottom of a little box of crap that had been lying around for decades untouched. I have no memory of when or where I got them, but they're of very limited use without a holder.

Now, you can buy a plastic holder for not much money at all, but why buy one when you could make one? So I made one.

I have no idea what the timber species is. It used to be a mop-handle, I think. Now it's a pen handle.

I do like the vibrant and responsive line you can get with a mapping pen and Indian ink, but it takes a little bit of practice to learn to control it well — the tines of the nib are very springy, and the nib is very sharp. You can't treat it like a pencil or a ball-point pen.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Stool Time

Here's yet another stool, a very simple one this time, made out of reclaimed rimu.

The pieces of wood I had to work with were full of old saw kerfs and screw holes. I cut around the old kerfs and plugged some of the holes with dowels, but I see one that I missed — I'm not really sure that it's worth the bother of revisiting it, but we shall see how much it preys on my mind.

I do like rimu as a furniture timber, but it does have its issues. It can have a tendency to warp, but this timber is so old that I don't expect that. As it ages, it gets harder and more brittle, which isn't usually much of an issue when using it to make things, but it means that it tends to split and splinter when you're de-nailing recycled wood, and you'll probably have to be sure to pre-drill every screw hole.

I would have liked to have tapered the legs a bit to make it a bit more elegant, but by the time I'd cut the baulks down I only had 30mm square sticks to work with. Maybe a bit of tapering would be all right, but I worry that it might have made the legs too delicate for the hurly-burly of day to day use.

Friday, April 27, 2018

All Dogged Up

I have a very basic, and not very good, vice that I installed as a tail-vice on the end of Workbench #01. Today I added some dogs — a hefty chunk of steel in the vice itself, and some sprung wooden dogs to go in the bench.

The steel dog would have been better in brass or copper, as it would be safer if a plane should hit it. However, I don't have a piece of brass of the required size, so steel it is. It's a piece of 1" x ¼" bar, so somewhat over-engineered for the purpose, but again that's what I had.

One advantage of making a housing in the vice-jaw for such a hefty piece of metal is that I could use a piece of wood in it quite safely — a quarter-inch thick stick of oak or ash should be quite strong enough for the job, and if the steel dog ends up making me too nervous, that's probably what I'll do.

The dog-holes in the bench-top go right through, so sawdust and crap will just fall through instead of clogging them up, and thus far I've bored pairs of holes out to about 450mm from the vice. If I need any further away, they can be bored as and when they're required. The springs in the dogs themselves aren't very potent, but sufficient to hold them in place when they're not under tension from the vice, and that's all they need to do.

Phone Camera — Accidentally Artistic Piece of Crap

My phone is a cheap Huawei of some description, and apart from the fact that Huawei never updates the OS on their phones, it's been an OK phone. However, its camera is complete garbage.

I took this while waiting for some friends at the Blue Duck cafe on Waitangi Day. I've cleaned up the sky a bit, but left everything else untouched. If you look at it full-size, the compression artifacts means that the pine tree foliage has been rendered in quite a painterly fashion, which I quite like.

That doesn't change the fact that the camera is a piece of shit.

Thursday, April 19, 2018


I inherited this nice little guillotine from my friend Robin Sutton, who was doing a great clear-out in preparation for shifting. I believe it was made by his father, or maybe grandfather (?)

Anyway, now it's mine. I've wanted a paper guillotine for years, but have never found one that I could afford.

It was a bit sad when it came to me, but a bit of cleaning up has made it quite cheerful again. I cleaned and polished all the metalwork, sharpened the blades, took a card-scraper to the platen, planed off all the edges of the platen, gave it some feet so that the blade doesn't hit the table when closed, and gave all the woodwork a few coats of shellac and/or oil.

Now it's as good as new (or old). It's much cleaner now, but it still has that patina of use that I like in a tool.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Knobby Knobs

I've been getting some practice on my little lathe, turning some drawer-pulls for my little chest of drawers. I actually ordered some cast metal ones, but those cost very little so I figured that I had nothing much to lose by making some of my own, and it would be nice to have a piece of furniture in which every single component was made by hand, by me..

There are enough here for all ten drawers, plus some spares so I can discard the crappiest ones. They're made from beech, from an old broom handle.

Some of them are fairly similar to some others, but none are identical — I have real problems with control and repeatability on the lathe. I decided that since I was unlikely to get them all very similar, I wouldn't even try, and made each one an individual.

Monday, March 12, 2018


My little chest of drawers is about done now, except for the drawer pulls, which are coming from Far Cathay and won't be here for a few weeks.

All in all, I'm fairly happy with it. I'll be happier still when I can actually use it.

I'm kind of curious to see how the colour of the sapele alters as it ages. Will it darken, or will it fade? I'm all agog. I guess I'll find out in ten or twenty years or so.

In retrospect, it might have been better if I'd made it of such a size that the drawers could accommodate an A4 sheet of paper, but alas, I did not. I guess I'll just have to make another one.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Back in the olden days....

I was browsing through some ancient photos and found this one of me during my short but illustrious military career. It was taken on my crappy old Instamatic camera, which I think took a tiny 9x9mm negative, and had three aperture settings: bright, normal, and dark.

This would have been 1980, on exercise with Bravo Company just outside Whakatane. I was a platoon signaller at the time, which is why I'm carrying an M16 instead of an SLR — it should have been a Sterling, but I don't think we had any in the armoury.

The radio was an ANPRC-77 set, a heavy and clunky old piece of VietNam-era American kit, as was almost all of our equipment at the time. It had a pathetic range, and coped not at all well with things like hills and dense forest, two things that I'm given to understand are quite common in VietNam, as they are here in New Zealand.

Thursday, March 8, 2018


A few years ago I got a bunch of free reclaimed timber from an organisation that was clearing out its workshop. Among it was some laminated sapele, which appeared to once have been a counter-top.

It's taken a while to get around to using it, but finally I have, and over the last couple of days I've put together the carcass for a little chest of drawers. Now I just have to make a bunch of shallow drawers.

It's about 600mm tall, and the drawer spaces are only 25mm (35mm for the bottom two), so very shallow. I'll be using them to house my 6mm micro-scale models, so they don't need to be any deeper than that — in fact, deeper drawers would just be more difficult to use for the intended purpose.

The runners are ash, so should be tough enough to stand up to plenty of wear, though in truth they won't have to carry a lot of weight.

Sapele is quite nice to work with, but it does tend to have a bit of interlinked grain which can make planing a bit tricky — the issue is exacerbated by the fact that these boards are laminated, so fairly often there are strips of wood right next to each other with the grain running in opposite directions. I have to make sure my planes are super-sharp, and taking super-thin shavings. Even so, I was still getting the occasional tear-out, but it's pretty minimal.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Hexapodal Cyclopean Tongue-beast

The latest major update to Photoshop has made a lot of changes to the way brushes are handled, and I've had to do a bit of playing around to get back a group of brushes that I like, and that will react the way that I expect. I've recently changed my graphics tablet too, which might also have something to do with it.

This thing is done with a pencilish sort of brush that I'm finally more or less satisfied with. I have no idea what it is, but I expect it will probably end up in my D&D game in one way or another.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Winding Sticks

 This is a very useful tool, designed to determine if a piece of wood has any twist, or wind, along its length. They're called winding sticks.

I've been making do with bits of scrap wood, and you can get by with them, but these make the job a lot easier and more precise.

I've made these out of rimu. The white tabs are bits of PVC, inlaid into the body of the stick and planed flush; they're intended to be very easy to see. Back in the old days, they would probably have been bone. The black strip is just paint; I would have liked to use an ebony inlay, but that would really just be fanciness for its own sake, and the paint does the job perfectly well. The centering dots are bits of 5mm pine dowel, glued into holes drilled right through both sticks.

Using the sticks is very quick and easy. They're laid across the plank at either end, with the dot at the centre — that ensures that there isn't inadvertently more of the stick on one side than the other, which might unbalance it and give you a false reading.

You lower your eye-line to level with the front stick (the one with the black line), and so that you can just see the white tabs on the back stick. The black line isn't absolutely necessary, but it does give you a very clear reference horizon, differentiating the top of the front stick from the top of the back one.

If there's a difference in the amount of each white tab you can see, then it means that the plank is twisted. In this case, the right tab is higher than the left, which indicates that the rear right corner of the plank is higher. The piece of wood will need to be planed to bring both tabs to level.

The length of the winding sticks exaggerates the degree of twist due to their length, and makes it really obvious. There's a difference in height here between the two tabs of just a few millimetres, and the sticks are about five times as wide as the piece of wood, so that means the difference you see is actually about five times the actual height of the corner. This would only need a few strokes of the plane to bring it back into level.

"Owl Sense" Cover

I've just received a copy of a book called Owl Sense by Miriam Darlington. It appears to be about owls. Definitely owl-related.

The reason they sent it to me is because I contributed graphics to the cover art. The tree in the background is a lift-ground etching I did some years ago.

It's nice to see one's work in published form.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Little Cabinet That Could

A few years ago I bought a whole lot of 6mm WWII models at the Christchurch Wargaming Club's annual bring-and-buy, and they came in some simple trays made of pink birch and hardboard. Those trays have been sitting around doing nothing ever since, and yesterday I thought I might as well make use of them for their original purpose.

I whipped up a carcass from MDF (boo! hiss!), slapped some handles and oil on the trays to turn them into drawers, and voila, a little cabinet for my tiniest war-dollies.

MDF has many virtues, but it has many faults as well. Among those faults, the fact that it's a real pain to get a decent, even paint coat on. Especially if, like me, you're basically pretty crap at painting things that aren't models.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Kerfing Saw

 Here's my most recent tool-making project — a kerfing saw, or kerfing plane. It's intended for creating a saw kerf around a plank, for re-sawing, or for cutting off a box lid, or any of those sorts of jobs where a straight, accurate saw line is needed. This tool doesn't need to be able to saw right through a piece of wood; it's intended to provide a guide line for a hand-saw to finish off.

The blade is taken from a Bahco gents saw, which cost me about ten bucks. It's ideal for this purpose, because it's quite thin, and sharpened in an unaggressive rip pattern, which means that although it won't cut very fast, it will cut in both directions. I drilled a couple of holes in it and mounted it on a pair of 8mm bolts and wingnuts in slots through the body of the plane, so the amount of blade showing (and therefore the depth of cut) can be adjusted.

The body of the plane, and the fence, are made from offcuts of ash I had left over from another job.

I think I'll add some glue blocks along the inside of the gusset on the fence bracket, just to give it a bit of added strength. Also, I might replace the hex-head bolts with coach-bolts, just because the domed heads will look a bit nicer, I think. That's a pretty low priority though, as it's purely for aesthetics.