Monday, September 29, 2008

Something to ponder while recovering from a root canal...

What if the Hokey-Pokey is really what it is all about?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

My low tech spraying system

This is going to be a long post, so either grab a cup of coffee, or a beer or a glass of wine. And put your feet up.

I've been thinking about glazing lately. So I posted something on the ClayArt board recently, asking how other potters do it. People recommended books and videos. I bought the books, and probably spent more time than I should have on YouTube, watching some glazing videos. It's amazing what's out there on the web, some really great, most moderately helpful.

I've been fighting that eternal nagging question - do I dip or do I spray? I've been spraying for a while, but sometimes I get frustrated at my results. After watching the videos on YouTube, I'm not sure there IS a definitive answer to that question.

The answer is.... do what works for you.

Then, someone from the Clay Art board asked about low cost spray booths. If you're not a potter, you're probably wondering how spraying a finish fits into pottery. Simply put, a spray booth allow potters to spray things onto their wares - usually glaze. Traditionally, there is some sort of a lazy-susan type wheel in the booth, so that you can spin your work while spraying it, thus assuring even coverage.

And an exhaust fan to suck away the harmful airborne glaze. Here's my problem - every spray booth I've ever seen has looked like a cross between a toxic dump and a cool piece of spin art. They're usually covered by layer upon lay of glaze, drippy and dried, and unfortunately, ready to flake off when a blast of air comes.
So my aversion to spray booths stems from two things - they require too much cleaning, and (at least for a decent one) they're too expensive. Even this little Hobby Shop Spray Booth, while on the lower end of the price range, is limiting.

It's on the small side, and really, it's only a metal box with some filters.

So of course, being the frugal artist that I am, I was determined to come up with a cheaper, better system. Before I started spraying my pieces, I did the research about buying a sprayer. You know what's funny, I have a couple of good friends who spray their woodworking finishes, and in the past couple of years, they've both quit using their sprayers. See, I think the biggest drawback of spraying finishes is cleaning the sprayer when you're done. Of course, a sprayer that clogs is a bitch, too. Add to the mix that some of the high end sprayers are just too damn expensive... and - well, there has to be a better way to do things.

After doing a ton of research, I finally settled on this sprayer, a cheap, low tech unit that uses Mason Jars for it's reservoir.

There are only two adjustments to this sprayer - the air supply pressure and the height of the liquid nozzle.

Basically, you fill up a mason jar, screw the top on, and you're good to go. In fact, I bought a case of mason jars at the local grocery store, and keep them filled with the different glazes that I use most often. Here is an assortment of the Waterfall glazes I use.

A few vigorous shakes of the jar and I'm ready to slap on the Critter and start spraying.

Simple. Exactly what I need.

Back to my "spray booth" dilemma - and believe me, it WAS a dilemma. I considered buying one, then after checking the booths out at a couple of local potteries, I was convinced it was going to turn into one more white elephant, cluttering up my shop. My studio here in Las Vegas is one-third the size of what I had in Ohio. It sucks, and it makes me constantly think of space-saving ideas, whether it involves tool and supply storage or actual floor space where I work.

So I started thinking about the concept of a disposable spray booth. I rigged a system made of a large cardboard box, with the front cut out. After placing a lazy susan inside, I could place a piece of bisqued ware on it, and give it a whirl. Sure, because there wasn't an exhaust fan, nothing pulled the airborne glaze from the atmosphere. But it more or less did a fine job until the glaze buildup on the walls started to flake off. As long as I was spraying the same color of glaze, an occasional fleck of glaze landing on the piece didn't really matter.

Still, it left me stuck with a glaze coated box... and what the hell am I supposed to do with that? And after I experimented with this a couple of times, I ran out of boxes to use.

I pondered this over a beer or two, and realized that the answer to my spray booth dilemma was simple - a trash can disposable system. This dawned on me one evening, when I was making dinner on the grill. Grilling is always messy, and it seems like I'm always scrubbing a pan or two afterwards. Once I switched to using nonstick aluminum foil and cooking in foil packets, life got much simpler.

It was a "light bulb over the head" moment.

My "spray booth" set up is simple, probably too crude or labor intensive for some, but it works perfectly for me. I start with a trash container from my woodshop. Honestly, a full one works better than an empty one. That's mostly because I throw the liner out when I'm done spraying, so I don't want to toss an empty can liner if I don't have to. Crank up the compressor, fill up a mason jar, and slap on the spray head. Of course, I've laid out all the pieces I want to glaze ahead of time, cleaned them off and sorted them into piles that will all get the same glaze.

Did I mention that I keep a giant roll of paper in my studio?

I read about that years ago, someone mentioned how handy a roll of paper is, for everything from making full size sketches, to wrapping finished pieces, to lining dirty shelves. So whenever I'm glazing, I'll put my bisqued pieced into piles on a fresh sheet of clean paper, and then either write on the paper which glaze I intend on using, or put the jar of glaze right by the pile. I need simple stuff like this in my life. Sort of like Rain Man.

I have my kiln loading down to a science. I know I can load roughly six shelves into my kiln, and I know how my pieces fit on them. Generally, I'll glaze only the pieces that are going into the kiln; otherwise, they'll just sit around and probably get damaged.

As crude as this system is - that makes it all the more important to wear a respirator. And of course, if I'm working with anything highly toxic, I'll either brush it, or put a set of elbow length gloves on. No sense in temping fate. So - let's start glazing.

In between pieces, the sprayer can hang right here.

Starting with the largest pieces first, I hold the piece in one hand, and spray with the other, using my trash can as my "booth". Of course, I do this outside, usually off in the gravel, as few feet away from everything.

It's simple to spray and rotate the piece at the same time. My hand holds the piece from the bottom, and rotating it is simple. The reason I spray the largest pieces first is that my hand is covered by the piece, so it stays cleaner longer. If anything, I get a little overspray on my wrist or forearm. A bucket of clean water and a sponge takes care of keeping myself clean.

I'll spray all the large pieces, and then move to the smaller ones. When holding a small piece, like a small soy sauce bowl, I'll generally support it with just two fingers. When I spray the next small piece, I'll use the other two fingers, which are clean. A quick hand rinse in the bucket, and I'm good.

Oh - and cleaning the sprayer is this simple...

Layering glazes is really easy - in this next short video, I'm holding a platter that already has a few coats of Waterfall Brown. But I want to shoot a little Waterfall Green in the center, it's a very nice combination.

Here are my pieces drying, you can see the various layering that I've done on some of the dinnerware sets.

After spraying everything, the last bit of glazing I do is with a brush, touching up the edges where the glaze didn't cover. It goes quickly. There is virtually no overspray to clean off on the bottom.

I leave the pieces to dry and start the cleanup. Screw the sprayer off the mason jar, and submerge the unit in my bucket of water. Pull the trigger and it forces the water up through the nozzle, cleaning everything. Like I said earlier, I keep the glaze in the mason jars, so there isn't a need to clean them. I just wipe them clean and put on a lid. And sure you label them, so you know what you're spraying.

To complete my cleanup, I tie the bag shut and throw it away.

A simple solution to a messy problem. The worst part of the clean-up might be scrubbing the red iron oxide out of my clothes. I used my shirt as a towel, as might notice in the image below. Note to self: wear dark shorts next time.

Anyway, that's how I do it. If it looks like it might work for you, sweet. A small compressor and the spray gun are pretty much all you need. Good luck, and don't forget to take off your jewelry before spraying.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Custom Cabinetry

***Blogger is acting weird this morning, for some reason, the links aren't highlighted. I did the best I could to show the links.

There's an article about custom cabinetry in yesterday's edition of the San Francisco Chronicle. I'm a bit of a news junkie, and scan a half dozen or so papers every morning.
This story (click here) caught my eye today.

This image of a custom unit (click here) next to a stairway is incredible, what a fabulous use of the space.

I was going to try and post a couple of pictures of some interesting built-in cabinets that I've built, but unfortunately, I couldn't find images of them. It's difficult to take pictures of built-ins, sometimes the lighting isn't good, or there is too much background clutter in the way. So - for now, this article will have to do.

More later, finishing up a couple of small projects today.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Frugal Woodworker

Call me frugal.

In fact, one of my "go to" cookbooks is The Frugal Gourmet by Jeff Smith. Overlooking his proclivities, I have to say that his books remind me of everything good that I learned about cooking while I was growing up. Not wasting, making do with what you have - in short, it's about taking meager ingredients and turning them into something stunning.

Earlier this week, I answered a question on All-Experts about built-in bookcases. Kathy from Florida wrote to ask about various materials and how they would react (i.e. - sag) under heavy loads. Some of the materials she mentioned were plywood, melamine covered MDF, and plain MDF simply painted white.

So of course, I referred her to one of my favorite sites - the Sagulator, which will tell you how much any given material will sag, based on load, thickness and span. It's incredibly helpful, and I'd personally like to buy a beer for the person who thought up that name.

Fast forward to tonight, Andy in New Zealand wrote for a little clarification about something in my answer. I'd mentioned to Kathy that plywood or melamine covered MDF would be my choice of the materials she'd mentioned.

See, to me, woodworking is very similar to cooking. Same thing applies here.
Plywood and MDF covered melamine offer frugal solutions for making built-in bookcases. Frugal, get the tie in?

But there are two things about those materials with which you will have to contend - camouflaging the edges, and beefing up the material.

One of the best ways to "beef up" a plywood or MDF board is to edge it in solid wood. The orientation of the solid wood is important. Let me explain.

If you take a 2 x 4 and lay it down flat spanning across two sawhorses, it will flex in the middle if a load is applied. But turn it up on edge and apply a load and... no flex. See, the grain of wood is stronger in that orientation. That's why wood is turned on edge for things like ceiling or floor joists, window and door headers, and so on.
The same physics apply to beefing up a piece of plywood or melamine covered MDF to make a shelf for the bookcase.

Using simple 1 x 2 stock, turned on edge, you can drastically strengthen the wood for supporting loads. What's even better - the solid wood edging will hide the edge of your panel stock, so you won't see the plies of wood or the MDF. Sweet.

Here's a picture of a small shelf in my house, the cabinet sides are made of Cherry plywood, and the all the horizontal components are made of white melamine covered MDF. Why melamine? It's clean looking and resists staining. If you've ever had a can or bottle of something leak inside a cabinet, you'll understand why melamine is a great interior surface for cabinetry.

Here's a close-up of the edge of that shelf, with a piece of solid wood edging applied to it. When I'm building cabinets like these and I need to make a large number of shelves, I'll glue these shelves up in one long piece, with a brad or two along the way to keep the wood from slipping out of alignment.

Later, when cutting the shelves to their final length, I'll trim the brads out, so there are no nail holes showing. Call me anal, too.

On bookcases that have really long spans, or extra heavy loads, you can add this strip to the front and the back of the shelf, thus making it even less prone to sagging.
Andy in New Zealand, I hope this helps clarify things!

Oh - and back to Jeff Smith's cookbook - The Frugal Gourmet - his recipe for Shrimp with Gin is worth the price of this book alone.

I wouldn't steer you wrong.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


You have to love how some people problem solve...

Redneck Limo

Wood Hog?

Cord Management

When you can't afford a flat screen...

As Tim Gunn would say - make it work!

Riding Mower

Not-so-great wheelchair ramp design

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Squaring up a piece of wood

A couple of weeks ago, I received a question on All-Experts, a website on which I volunteer, asking the following:

Question: Is there a way to straighten dried, warped or twisted rough sawn boards?

It's not the first time I've been asked this. In fact, it's probably one of the more popular questions I answer, next to ones about kitchen remodeling and damaged wood finishes. So I thought I'd make a couple of short videos about squaring up a piece of wood.

There is really only one true way to straighten out warped wood, and you need a good jointer and a planer. Now some people will say you can do it with other tools, even some hand tools, but in my opinion, you can't.

Let's establish some basics...

Here is a picture of my jointer, hooked up to a dust collector. These machines put out a butt-load of dust, so unless you want to sweep for the next hour, it's wise to use something to collect the dust, even if it's just a shop-vac that is duct taped to the vacuum port.

Don't use your household vacuum cleaner, it will ruin it. Trust me.

Normally, a board is run through a jointer on it's edge.

But in this case, we will be laying the board down flat. It's a little difficult to apply even pressure all across the board, and dangerous to do so with your bare hands. So try to use some sort of push sticks.

The ones below are cheesy, but they have a foam rubber bottom that grips the board and keeps my hands from slipping off it, and into the blades. Just the thought of that makes my skin crawl, I saw something like that once. Wasn't pretty.

A push stick like the one below is even better used at the end of the board, since it has a small "hook" on it. The "hook" grips that back edge of the board, helping you to push through the cut.

I make these pushsticks whenever I have some scrap plywood laying around, it's a nice way to use it up. I've never understood why woodworking companies sell plastic pushsticks. Who buys them? The only reason I have a few plastic ones in my shop is because my tool reps gave them to me.

Here's the outcome from using the jointer.

I have discussed this before, and it's a subject that's long been debated in all the woodworking magazines - which tools do you need to get started in woodworking? I'm not talking about the smaller power tools like sanders, or a drill. I'm talking BIG machinery.

There are so many different opinions about this, but I think there three tools you can't do without. Of course, it depends on what you make. If you're a bowl turner, you pretty much need a bandsaw and a lathe and you're pretty set. But for most woodworking, from making cabinets to building furniture to doing repairs around the house, I think you need these three tools - a 10" tablesaw, a planer, and a router in a router table. In a pinch, I've helped people install a router underneath one of the side tables on their tablesaw, so that they can share the fence between the tablesaw and the router. It works well and saves space.

So when I use a planer to to this next step - don't roll your eyes and think "Oh, I'm never going to own one of those" because planers have become very affordable and even the small ones do a nice job.

I've met woodworkers who talk about hand planing like it's some sort of religious experience for them. And I suppose in a perfect world, with a perfect board that has no knots or swirly grain, hand planing could be fun.

Wait, did I just say that?

There is not a chance in the world that I would hand plane a board over using my planer. Time is money, life is short... you know.... I'm not going to put a lot of energy into this step. I'd rather put that energy to good use down the line, when I'm sanding or finishing the wood. THAT'S where it really shows.

After establishing two parallel faces on this board, it's time to go back to the jointer and square up an edge.

And finally, let's rip that last edge down, taking the board to it's final width.

The only thing left is to trim the two ends square.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

On being a Tease... er.... Teal

If there was one thing I'd like to do better, it would be to take better photographs for this blog. Oh, I get by, but the images aren't great, like some blogs that I frequent.

Here are a couple of test tiles for a Teal version of the waterfall glaze; are you sick of hearing about that glaze yet?

Taking these pictures was difficult. I'd mentioned a few days ago on my favorite ceramic message board that I would post these, and I received a couple of e-mails asking where they were. Pushy, pushy! I ended up having to shoot these on four different occasions, the sun and the shadows weren't cooperating. Like I said, I'd love to be able to have some consistency with my photography skills.

The tile below caught my eye when it came out of the kiln, it was vibrant, reminding me of ocean colors. It was one of those accidents, I wasn't trying to come up with Teal, it just happened in the course of testing.

The tile below is another "accident", and although I dropped it and had to tape it back together, you can still see the deeper color and patterns formed from slow cooling in the kiln.

The funny thing is - in the beginning, I thought I liked the tile above best. But after spending a couple of sessions shooting these images, I am now favoring the one below.

Here they are, side by side. With recipes, to boot.

Remember, I'm not a real potter, I just play one on TV. Every single recipe here should be tested in your studio - on your clay, with your particular glaze chemicals, and of course, on your kiln schedule. If you come up with something great...I want pictures!

Back to woodworking in my next post, I'm working on something that I think will shed some light one one of the most common of woodworking procedures - squaring up a board. For some reason, I've been getting a few e-mails about the proper way to do that, so I'm working on something that should help.