Sunday, August 29, 2010


Many years ago, I was interviewed for a local morning TV show, and the host asked where I came up with my designs. Without really thinking about how it was going to sound, I told him I frequently had visions. I sounded a little crazy, and was teased about that answer for quite a while.

But - it's true. Sometimes an idea just pops into my head, and I can actually visualize the piece entirely completed, without having actually made it. It tends to save me a lot of time, because "seeing" a piece before building it allows me to decide if it's really worth the effort. Weird, but it works for me.

The other day I was working in my shop and one of my students stopped by. He watched me work for a while, building a small platform bed, and asked where I got the plans to build it. I pointed to my head. It's all up there, I explained. After you build for a while, you can visualize it, figuring out the joinery, spacing, details, scale, and measurements before you even pick up a board.

Recently, I was throwing some very small pots on the wheel, and started experimenting with making very small bowls, with wide lips. The design started as a vision, and well... follow my design process....

I've been wanting to combine wood and clay, to make some small sushi serving dishes. Not for the sushi itself, but for the wasabi and pickled ginger. Here are a couple of the small bowls I made, with a nice piece of walnut, which I felt would compliment the glaze on the bowls.

Here I've cleaned up the edges and squared the ends.

And using a plunge router and a Router Buddy, I've cut the first recess.

What's a Router Buddy? How did I do that?

It's a very simple circle cutting attachment that mounts on the bottom of my router. It is easily adjusted, and by varying the depth of cut, I can make a tapered hole that perfectly fits the bowls. There is a limit to how small of a circle you can rout with the Router Buddy, so I rout as much as it will let me, and then finish off the center with a forstner bit in the drill press.

These bowls are two different sizes, so each hole requires a different set-up. I usually cut a circle in a piece of scrap wood first, to make sure I don't rout the hole too big for the ceramic piece. I think wide grout lines are a crime.

Here is the second recess routed into the board. Notice that the hole has to get deeper toward the center.

The bowls fit quite nicely,

so I figured out my margins and trimmed one end on a 30˚ angle.

And then cut the other end, too.

After the ends were cut, I ripped both sides at that same angle.
I had originally planned on making this base tapered, to accentuate the different sizes of the bowls. But the board wasn't wide enough to accommodate the angles I wanted, so I left them parallel.

Here is an example of a tapered version, this one is Maple with my (very purple) Eura-Pansy glaze.

Pun intended.

Sanding with the Festool Rotek made this board very smooth in minutes. Using the Rotek is a like an upper body workout, without the boredom of lifting weights.

I usually adhere the ceramic piece with silicone, so that it can move a little, as the wood changes with seasonal movement.

A few more coats of oil, and these are ready to be listed on Etsy.

This piece turned out exactly how I saw it in my mind. Call me quirky, but I think instead of feeling embarrassed about having visions, we should celebrate the fact that we can.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Replacing blades on a Delta Jointer

Someone ran a board with a few brads in it through the jointer, which of course, chipped the blades. I was dreading switching the nicked blades for my spare (and very sharp!) set, because it just seems like such a hassle. But - like anything else, once you've done it a few times, it's really pretty simple. This time, I accomplished the switch in about a half hour.

First, remove the guard by loosening the allen head bolt that secures it in place.

I usually just flip the guard over and store all of the loose parts in it.

Once the guard is removed, the cutterhead is exposed.

See the chips on the blade?

The last time I changed the blades, I made a few notes in my manual about the tools I needed, and about which way loosens the blade bolts.

Here are the sharp blades, straight from the sharpener's shop.

Each blade is held in place by a lock bar, which is secured in place with four bolts. You loosen them by turning the wrench away from you, toward the fence

Here are the three lock bars and blades.

And the fresh set of blades.
Once the blades are removed, I usually blow out all the dust with an air hose, and wipe everything clean.

Be careful you don't blow these little circular nuts and set screws away. You need those to
set the height of the blades. The rabbet on the nut must be aligned parallel with the slot. The one below is positioned wrong.

This is the right way.

Before you go much further, you need to check the height of the cutterhead itself.
Rotate the cutterhead until the round portion of the cutterhead is on top. The correct setting is for the cutterhead to be .015” under the height of the outfeed table.

So place a .015” feeler gauge on the cutterhead and using a straight edge on the rear table, adjust the height of the rear table until it is .015” above the cutterhead diameter, as shown in the picture below.

I check this on both the far and near side of the cutterhead, just to make sure everything is aligned properly.

Once you know the cutterhead is in the right position in relation to the outfeed table, you can install the knives.

The knives are adjusted correctly when the cutting edge of the knife extends out .015” from the cutterhead diameter Or - in other words, they're perfectly level with the outfeed table.

Put of the knives in place, and then slip the lock bar against it. BARELY tighten the bolts. If you tighten them too much, you won't be able to adjust the height of the blade.

Then, using that straight edge on the back table, adjust the height of the blade to be the exact height of the table. You do that with an allen wrench, in those circular bolts that you saw above. The blade will move up quite easily, so just barely turn the wrench to make your adjustments. If you do this too quickly, you are liable to nick your blade on the straight edge, so be patient.

Rotate the cutterhead so that the knife is just even with the straight edge. Do that on both nuts for each blade. That way, you can be certain that your blade is parallel with the table height.

Here is one set finished and tightened down.

If you accidentally raise the blade too high and need to press it down, make sure you put a rag over the blade while you're pushing it down, or you're liable to cut yourself. Trust me on this.

Now you can replace the cutterhead guard. Make sure that you adjust the spring so that it pulls the guard firmly against the fence. You'll need some pliers for this. 

Finally, check your fence for squareness. Throw away your square and buy a Wixey digital cube. Here it is - zero-ed out on the table.

Flip it up onto the fence and check the readout - a purrrrfect 90˚.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Our top secret project

Remember that project that I mentioned a few weeks ago, the one for the VIP? Turns out if I tell you about it, I'll have to kill you.

No, I'm just kidding, but I did sign a confidentiality agreement about it, so I guess I won't be able to post anything here. But I thought I'd share a couple of (vague) pictures of my buddy Dan and me working on this project.

We make a hell of a mess when we work.

Every single workbench in the shop was covered with tools, parts, food, scrap material and more crap than I ever thought possible.

We basically worked nonstop for three days, building,

testing finishes,

cutting french cleats for the cabinet backs,

installing hardware,

and then sanding. And more sanding. Not to mention staining, finishing and waxing. I thought my arms were going to fall off. That isn't a smile, it's a grimace.

Our friend Thomas stopped by to check out our progress and bring us some energy drinks. He was sworn to secrecy, too.

All in all, this was a great experience, it's just a shame that it's one of those projects we don't get to brag about. Still, I think we look pretty proud of our work, don't you?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Air Force gifts - part two

Here is the second project I just finished for the Air Force Base - someone was lucky enough to receive a huge bottle of Crown Royal, along with this engraved desk plaque.

It's hard to tell in this picture, but the bottle is etched with some very cool artwork and text.

And the "coaster" where the bottle sits was made from a CR bag, wrapped around a wooden disc and dropped into the routed recess. I love the chance to get creative with projects like this!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

How cool is this?

I grew up less than six miles from the L.A. airport, and when I was a kid, I was fascinated by planes. (I still am.) Watching them fly overhead from our backyard was my favorite pastime, so it's really exciting that I've been doing some work for the local air force base.

A fellow called me last week to ask if I could make a couple of wooden stands that he could use as going-away gifts. When he mentioned what he wanted to mount on the wood, I knew it was something I wanted to make.

This is an ejection handle from a fighter jet - how many other woodworkers can say they've worked on a project this cool?

Photos of the other one will be coming; the finish is still drying. Meanwhile, I'm heading out to the backyard with the kids, to watch the jets fly overhead.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

New Project keeping me away from blogging

It's been a little hellish here - so I haven't had much time to think about blogging.

Well, I take it back - I've thought about it, but just can't seem to find the time to sit down and write anything. I'm working on a project right now that is on a very tight deadline, and just about everything that can go wrong in the shop is going wrong. OK, maybe that's an exaggeration, but it sure feels that way.

My good friend Danny, from Exotic Millworks, is helping me with this project, and we spent the weekend in the shop, in a marathon building session. I'll talk more about the project once it's completed and I have a little time to edit the photos, but I thought I'd show you one of the problems we encountered.

It started when I was cutting some gilded picture frame molding on the tablesaw.

This is one of those times when it's good to remind yourself to read your tool manuals from cover to cover. I was cutting some miters when...


the SawStop did exactly what it's supposed to do, which is cause the blade to drop within a millisecond, and force it into the block of solid aluminum. Ouch - that was a new H.O. Schumacher and Sohn blade.

Remember ... (to quote from their literature)...the SawStop safety system includes an electronic detection system that detects when a person contacts the blade. The system induces an electrical signal onto the blade and then monitors that signal for changes. Using a digital signal processor to constantly monitor the saw, it’s a smart saw, ready to react if an accident occurs. The human body has a relatively large inherent electrical capacitance and conductivity which cause the signal to drop when a person contacts the blade. Wood has a relatively small inherent capacitance and conductivity and does not cause the signal to drop.

In this case, it wasn't my finger that triggered the system, it was the metal gilding on the picture frame molding, that transferred my electrical signal to the blade.

Of course, it mentioned that in the manual, once I pulled it out and read it, to try and figure out WTF happened.

Luckily - I had an extra brake cartridge at the shop.

Or so I thought.

Turns out my saleswoman sold me the wrong cartridge when I originally bought the saw. Here is the pin configuration on the cartridge we took out

and here is what we wasted almost two hours trying to re-install.

A few choice words later, we got back to the task at hand. Luckily, we had Danny's panel saw at the shop, and my little DeWalt portable tablesaw, so we could still do some work.

You can bet that the first call I made Monday morning was to my saleswoman.

Our next battle was with the stain - I won't go into it because it's rather boring, but I will say that I probably put 150 miles on my van tracking down four different quarts of stain, none of which we liked.

And another 100 miles on the van, buying hardware all over the city. I have now officially found every specialty nut and bolt store in this town. And if I didn't have an appointment with this client in about an hour, I would probably be ready for one of these...