Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Marking Gauge


When you're making things out of wood (or out of anything really) you're going to be doing a lot of measuring and marking. This is a very simple tool, yet very useful for that sort of thing.

The bar is laminated from a couple of bits of oak, with a channel carved through for the steel rule to slide in. Any hard wood would do the trick; softwoods like pine would wear very quickly and get sloppy. The knob is 3d printed, and is glued to a bolt which screws through its nut, captive in a socket carved into the oak and epoxied in place, and the whole screws on to a presser plate that presses against the ruler to lock it in place.

The channel for the steel rule is square and tight, but not tight enough that the rule is guaranteed to be perfectly square to the bar; fortunately, for this tool, absolute squareness is not a necessity. If need be, one could reduce the play in the steel rule by increasing the width of the bar and channel, and still more by lining the edges of the channel with brass or something, but I doubt very much that I'll need to go to such lengths for the tolerances I work with.

The function of the tool is for making marks at a consistent distance from the edge of a piece of wood; I can slide it along an edge with a pencil held at the end of the ruler to make a continuous parallel mark. This is something that can be done with a combination square, of course, but this is lighter and handier, and the oak slides more easily than the metal frame of a combination square.

Monday, June 14, 2021


I have a sad case of Finish Regret.

I made this macrocarpa stool, and decided at the last minute to use polyurethane to finish it, instead of tung oil. I figured that polyurethane would be better for a piece of indoor-outdoor furniture; the finish wouldn't last forever out in the weather, but it would be a lot more resistant to occasional raining-upon than would an oil finish.

The theory is fine and dandy, but I failed to take into account the temperature. The coolness means that the polyurethane's curing was retarded, and it has slumped in places on the vertical surfaces. I'm going to have to sand it back and reapply, probably in several very thin rubbing applications, with about 24 hours between each.

So, poo bum wees.

Friday, June 11, 2021

Ye Newe Olde Sewinge Machyne of Far Cathay


I bought this machine a couple of years ago, and have only just got around to setting it up into a usable condition. I love its bare mechanical aesthetic, free of any sort pandering to convenience or fashion or manufacturing quality.

It tends to be labelled on Youtube and AliExpress and the like as "Chinese Shoe Patcher", and the same basic machine is marketed by a whole bunch of vendors, with variations in colour and quality of finish. I don't recall exactly who sold me this one; I got it via AliExpress, and it cost me a couple of hundred Kiwibucks including postage.

It came with three spindly little pipe-legs that are supposed to screw into its base, but frankly I don't see how it would be possible to use it on them. They'd be wobbling all over the place, and the pressure on the hand-crank is sufficient to move the whole shebang around even with the solid block of macrocarpa I've got it screwed to. It really needs to be clamped solidly to the bench or table I'm working at.

As well as a decent base, I also had to make a bobbin stand because the little rod sticking out of the frame provided for the task is entirely inadequate.

It came with a few spare bottom bobbins and a spare bobbin-shuttle; the bobbins are a non-standard size, but spares are available on Amazon and elsewhere if you know where to look — I don't, but various Youtube dudes do, and have provided appropriate links. There is no way that I can find to wind the bobbins automatically, as I could do on my Pfaff sewing machine, but my usage is light enough that winding them by hand isn't overly onerous. It only takes five minutes or so, and would be quicker still if I rigged up something less intrusive than my sausage-fingers to hold the bobbin while I'm winding. (There's a mysterious sprung rubber wheel on the back of the machine that doesn't seem to do anything, and maybe it's part of a bobbin-winding system? If so, I can't see how it would work.)

The instruction pamphlet that came with it is laughably bad. Even taking into account the problems of translating from Chinese to English, the content is both irrelevant and obscure. It doesn't even include a threading diagram or guide. Fortunately, the machine is popular enough with American leatherworkers that there's a decent amount of instructional content about it available on Youtube.

It creates a decent seam through three or four layers of fairly soft furnishing leather; I haven't tried it yet on anything more resistant than that, but it should be okay I think. It is a bit difficult to control, as one hand is always engaged in turning the crank, while the other has to manipulate the work piece under the presser foot. However, that should be just a matter of practice. I won't be using it on anything that needs neat, straight seams just yet, though there's no reason why it couldn't produce them if I knew more about what I was doing.

It's certainly a lot faster (though as yet, less precise) than hand-stitching, though not as fast as an electrical machine. I have seen modifications to this machine that add an electric motor and foot control, and they seem to work well, though at the price of portability.

Apparently it will handle fairly heavy thread, though the nylon thread provided with it is quite light. It's adequate to my needs for the moment; I don't foresee having to sew draught-horse harness or anything any time soon.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Bandsaw Upgrade


I have a cheap, small bandsaw. It's not the greatest bandsaw ever made, but it's not the worst either.

The worst thing about it has always been its platen.

It came with a cast aluminium platen (which you can see in this photo discarded on the shelf beneath the saw) which was never even remotely flat. Nor was the surface very slippery, so it resisted pushing the work through the blade a bit. Not much, but perceptibly.

I've replaced that cast aluminium piece with a piece of nice smooth, slippery, and most importantly, FLAT melamine. It's also a tad bigger than the old platen, which is all to the good — though that's not saying much; there's only about 250mm between the blade and the pillar anyway.

It wasn't quite as straightforward as cutting a bit of melamine and slapping it on the bracket — it needed a couple of packers to fit. But it wasn't a difficult upgrade at all, and it will make the bandsaw so much better and easier to use.

There's a possibility that it might need a joist underneath to help keep the front-right corner from flexing under the weight of a wide work piece, but I'll wait and see about that. It may well not be necessary.

Friday, April 30, 2021

Book Stand Double-Stacked


I made this little bed-side book stand some years ago, but I recently conceived a desire to be able to stack two things on it, not just one.

The main body of the thing is made from pink birch. The added tabs on the front, allowing for double-stacking, are some spalted beech I've had hanging around forever.

It's a handy thing. It keeps my Kobo ready to hand when I'm in bed, and the legs mean that I can keep the charging cable in the Kobo and still have the book the right way up for reading. Now I can also keep a sketchbook there as well.

NOTE TO KOBO: put the charging port in the top or side edge of the device, not the bottom where it just gets in the way.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Smile Sketch


This is a sketch taken from a photograph of some guy that I found somewhere on the internet years ago and kept because I liked his smile. I don't know his name, nor that of the photographer.

Drawing is all done in Photoshop.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Plane Till


I may not have achieved much progress on the project I'm actually supposed to be working on today, but on the other hand I do now have a till to keep all my working planes in safely on my workbench, and that I can pick up and move as required.

I've been meaning to make one of these for ages, and though it's not very pretty (it's just cobbled together out of whatever scrap was lying around) it should do the job perfectly well.

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Art or Trash?


If you can sell it, it must be Art.

If you can't sell it, it must be Art That People Just Don't Understand.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Router Lift Redesign


I've redesigned and rebuilt my vice-held benchtop router table to use an old scissor-jack for the lift, rather than the big bolt I had coming up from below (that's what's sitting on the platen in this photo). I've kept most of the old frame and just added some bits to increase the height enough to cater to the jack.

The scissor-jack is superior to the base screw in that there's little or no lateral pressure on the frame while the router is being raised or lowered, so there's less need for lateral bracing. I will probably add some anyway, just to make the whole assembly a bit sturdier, but there's not really any great need for it.

I cut down an 8mm screw-eye to use with an electric drill to turn the jack-screw, but I have no need to be raising or lowering the router that quickly, and it's a bit of a faff hooking up the drill every time I want to change the height. Besides, I'd need to do the final adjustment manually in any case, for accuracy.

So instead, I've just mounted the old hand-wheel to the jack's hook-tab with a couple of small steel brackets. I can raise or lower the router to its full extent with just six or eight turns, and maintain very fine control over the bit height as well. I've done a little bit of testing, and the screw doesn't seem to shift at all under vibration from the router as it runs; if it ever does, I guess I'll have to rig some kind of clamp to the hand-wheel, which shouldn't be difficult.

All in all, I'm very pleased with the way it's turned out. It all looks a bit shonky, but it works well. Now I should replace the MDF top plate with a nice slippy piece of laminate, or maybe even a sheet of stainless steel.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Busy Busy Spiders


The spiders that live in our firewood storage lean-to by the carport have been very busy indeed since we used up the last of the wood some months ago.

There will be more firewood going in there in the not too distant future, but I think I'll leave them and their webs alone until then.

I really don't mind spiders at all, as long as they're not crawling unexpectedly up my arm. Or as long as they're not White Tails; I hate those disgusting little fuckers.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

New Year Booty


Some new stuff arrived in the mail for me today.

The book is by Paul Sellers, my favourite online woodworking tutor, and it's a cracker. The information in there is probably largely available from him on Youtube or his own website if you're prepared to hunt it down, but it's nice to have it all in one place, in a format that remains readable when I don't have internet access. I do like books.

The other new arrival is a set of small HSS push-graver blades from China. They were very cheap, though I don't recall the exact price, and they'll go into the little beech mushroom handles (also cheap, also from China) that I bought for that purpose.

I've mounted one of the gravers already, and given the handle a few coats of shellac — it looks like a toffee apple.

I've never done any hand engraving before, and I strongly suspect that it's not as easy as people like Uri Tuchman make it look. However, there's no time like the present for learning a new skill, and I'm always interested in finding new ways of making intaglio plates that doesn't involve messing about with acids.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Shoe Shine Box


Yesterday, I went to use our shoe-cleaning stuff, and finally got fed up with the ratty old cardboard box that we've been keeping it all in for the last thirty years or so.

So I whacked together this box out of scraps of 12mm pine plywood I had lying around, and a handle cut down from an old broomstick.

The little shelf is there to rest your foot on while you're brushing away at your shoe. It's supported underneath by a fairly hefty pine bracket, so it's a lot sturdier than it looks from above. The little curved cutout in the top edge of the divider serves no real function; it's just there because I think it looks nicer than a straight line.

If I had any self-respect, I'd fill all those screw holes. Maybe in another thirty years.

Friday, December 18, 2020

New (Old) Door Handles


I replaced the old knob-style door handles on the door between our kitchen and lounge with these brass lever-style handles.

I wanted levers so that I could open the door with my elbow, when my hands are laden with plates or whatever.

I think, though I'm not sure, that the handles are reproduction, not genuine antique. However, they're solid brass, not plated, and if they are reproductions they're good ones.

Unfortunately, the lock-plates from the old handles had marked the varnish and wood enough that I had to scrape them away. And that means that some time soon I'm going to have to dismount the door, scrape down the whole thing, and re-varnish it.

And so goes the creep of renovation.

Friday, December 4, 2020

Press Trolley


I've been pottering about the last few days making this trolley for my little etching press. It's mostly plywood, though the legs are salvaged from some pine framing timber from the scrap pile. I may, eventually, stain and varnish it, when I get up the gumption to do so.

It has lockable castors on one end only; whether it will need them all round is yet to be seen.

I'll use it to store all my printing clobber as well as the press — inks, brayers, barens, mixing plates and so on. And being on wheels, I can shunt it out of the way when it's not being used, which will be a blessing. Hopefully it won't get so heavy that I have to upgrade the castors; I think these ones are only rated for about 30kg  50kg.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Plywood Block


I thought I would give an ordinary old scrap of 18mm pine plywood a go as a printing block. Results were mixed.

Shown here are scans of the block itself (left) and a print taken from it (right). The print has been reversed horizontally so that it matches the image on the block.

You can see dark bands running from top to bottom of the block; these are from the growth rings in the timber the plywood was made from.

The density of the wood varies quite markedly between summer and winter growth, and that causes problems when cutting from one to the other, as the gouge can unexpectedly dive deeper into the surface, or skip up out of the wood.

Also, the variable density creates variable absorbency when the ink is rolled on to the block, and it swells unevenly across its surface. The effect is miniscule, invisible to the naked eye, but you can see the results in the right-hand side of print. I was using quite a hard brayer to roll on the ink, so it was quite unforgiving of any hollows. The printing issues are exacerbated by the uneven cutting caused by the density variations too.

Apart from the issues created by the growth rings, actually cutting the pine plywood was really quite easy. It was definitely more pleasant than cutting MDF, as there was no dust, and my gouges stayed sharper for longer. For simple prints without any complex line work, I think it would probably be fine. However, for anything other than that, plywood faced with a more homogenous, fine-grained timber would be much better — cherry, for example, or pear.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

New Woodcut, But Old


I started this woodcut quite some time ago, and the key block has been sitting around all that time (since 2017). Now I've also cut a bunch of colour blocks, and I don't think I'll be doing any more cutting, but I have to do some more playing around with the colours because these ones are pretty shite and I'm getting a little bit disheartened.

<< This is the original ballpoint pen drawing I did even longer ago, in 2012 I think.

Warm colour scheme

And this (right) is the latest colour scheme, which I like a lot better than the earlier one.

It needs a certain something, but I haven't quite figured out what.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Topical Woodblock Print


Colour mock-up
— will probably change a bit
Let's start from the end. This is the completed woodcut in three colours (four if you count the seal stamp). It was printed in "Flint" water-based relief inks on a registration stage, using one of my glass-bead barens.


The design is drawn on to 3mm MDF in Indian ink. That orangy-yellow is just there to make it easy for me to see where I have and haven't cut the MDF away.

MDF has its pluses and minuses as a woodcut medium. It has no grain, and it's easy to cut with sharp tools. It's like very hard lino in that respect, except that you can manage finer detail than you can in lino. On the other hand, it's a bit fibrous and fragile, and it's very easy for small details to be torn away by the pressure of the gouge. Also, the silica in it is pretty hard on edges, and you need to be sharpening a lot more than you would with proper wood or lino.

The wooden handled gouges in the stand (to the right) are all very cheap, and the steel is, frankly, not great. The blue ones in the foreground I got when I was at polytech; they were more expensive, though not desperately so — I think a set cost about thirty bucks — and their steel is much better, taking and keeping a much better edge.

Here's the first test print, to see if or where any more cutting needs to be done. Overall, I'm reasonably happy with it so far.

This is not, I should note, a good print, and it's intended solely for informative purposes. It hasn't been inked up evenly, and it should have more ink on it, but inking up will get more consistent as the old ink seals the rather absorbent surface of the MDF.

Once the key block — the main detail block, usually containing all or most of the outlines — is done, the colour blocks are created by means of an offset printing process.

The blocks are all placed in exactly the same position, kept in place by the black cardboard tabs you can see surrounding it, and the key block is printed on to (in this case) a piece of clear plastic, also locked into position with masking tape. Acetate is better, as it takes the ink better and is more dimensionally stable. Paper is usable, but because it is absorbent it makes the transfer on to the other blocks less reliable.

Once the plastic is printed, key block is removed, and another block is placed into the printing position. The plastic, with its printed image, is lowered on to the new block and the ink rubbed on to its surface. I use a rubber brayer for this.

The process is repeated as many times as is necessary, and now I have a reference image on the colour blocks, exactly the same as the key block, that I can use to exactly register the cutting for each new colour.

I'll do as many blocks as I think I'll need, plus one or two more in case of fuck-ups.

In this case, I'm expecting to want two colours in addition to the key block, and I've done three colour blocks. 

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Plane Repair

Stanley Part No. 12-005-8_3-1-03
Blade adjustment thumbscrew bolt

Thanks to my friend, Bob Bain, who provided the necessary bit from an old plane that was getting binned, my beloved Stanley #3 is back in action.

It's one of my favourites, being very light and handy: though too short and narrow for straightening boards, its diminutive size makes it great for getting into slight hollows, and being so small and light it's not very tiring to use.

It was the very first plane I bought myself, and it needed quite a bit of reconditioning then — it had obviously been pretty roughly handled at one time, and both handles had bits smashed out of them, which I patched.

Also, the blade adjustment screw bolt had had its threads munched up, and the brass adjustment thumb-screw itself was very stiff and difficult to use. I used it in this state for years before deciding I really should do something about it.

Stanley use a weird semi-proprietary format for this bolt: it's a left-hand 9/32" 24 TPI American unified form, for those who need to know that sort of thing. Good luck laying your hands on one of those at your local hardware shop, or a tap/die to make your own. Stanley do still sell them as a kit with the knurled brass knob, but they're not cheap, and by the time postage from the USA is taken into account, they're way too expensive. 

Fortunately, they're interchangeable between all Stanley (and Record, I believe) Bailey-pattern planes, and they're so common you're very likely to be able to pick up a junker second-hand for less than the price of the bolt/screw kit and cannibalize its parts. Which is essentially what I did, except that Bob provided the bits for free. Good man.

For what it's worth, I got the new (old) screw out of its housing by cutting a slot in its end with a hacksaw and just unscrewing it with a screwdriver. You could probably do it by grabbing it with vice-grips or something, with some kind of padding on the jaws, but I didn't want to risk damaging the threads.