Thursday, March 31, 2011

With apologies to my friends back east, Spring has arrived here in Las Vegas

When you grow up in Los Angeles, grade school kids learn about the California Missions. At least they did when I was in school there. It's funny, because when I eventually moved to Ohio, I'd never heard of the Amish at all. It is interesting what we deem is important for our kids to learn in school. There really is a regional subjectivity to it all, isn't there?

The missions were a series of religious (and sometimes military) enclaves, mostly built by Spanish Franciscans or Catholics. These small settlements were built across the southern part of the state. If I remember my studies, I think there was a total of about 20 missions. ( I just checked and there are 21.)

Basically, it was one group of people (the settlers) trying to convert another group (the natives) to their religion - wait, that crap is still happening today!

The reason I mention this is because I have many memories of field trips and class projects, where we would study this ancient southwest history. Pretty interesting stuff. The architecture was fascinating, like these stone carvings at Mission Santa Barbara.

The stonework is amazing.

Yes, this line of thought is going somewhere - today I was drying some clay in the sun. It made me think of the missions, with all their adobe and terra cotta work.

Here are some of my tile drying in the sun.

I usually wait until they're well past a leatherhard state, so that they won't dry too fast. Drying clay too quickly makes it warp, which - for tile, is not a good thing at all.

Of course, you know what Stella had on her mind.

Did I just find a piece of gold in the yard?

Here is a potsticker platter, awaiting the kiln.

Work is starting to build up in my studio, and it's nearly time to get the hammer out and start weeding out the good from the bad.

I've been trying to get the wood school set up so I can start offering some ceramic classes - what a chore! But the good news is - I am getting closer every day. The sink with a clay trap has been installed, and hopefully, I'll be ordering a new kiln and slab roller soon.

I'm working on some new designs - Spring has sprung! To my friends and family back east - hang in - warmer weather has to be coming soon.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Drum Sander Pt. Two

My friend Stacey sent me an e-mail, a little confused by my last post. She had a few questions about a drum sander, having difficulty understanding what it does, without ever having seen one.

So I thought I'd clarify it for her - and you.

A drum sander pretty does what a planer does - it makes the top surface of a piece of wood smooth and parallel with the bottom of the board. See, here is a planer, cutting the board with knives.

An here is a sander, sanding the board smooth, instead of cutting it. They look pretty much like the same tool.

Why would you choose a sander over a planer? The best answer is that it eliminates any possibility of chipping the wood. See, chipping occurs when the wood has weird swirly grain, or when there are knots on the surface. Sometimes, there is just no way to get around the chipping that occurs. Hence - the need to sand the board smooth, as opposed to planing it.

Sure, you can sand with a hand sander, but how much time to you want to spend sanding? Plus, you'll never get it as flat and even as you will with a drum sander.

Got it? Stace?

OK, on a whole different topic - here is my current favorite song. You'll hear it blasting from the woodshop if you wander by. Thanks, Stace!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Let's try this again - another new tool in the shop

This was a heck of an afternoon!

I had every intention of going out to lunch to celebrate my buddy Rick's birthday. But I was delayed, waiting for a UPS delivery of a new drum sander.
The box was a little dinged when it arrived. OK, there was a hole punched in the side of the box.

I'm always a little worried when there is a shoe print on the box.

But it had plenty of packing to protect it. Cool.

The only problem was - the sander was much shorter than I envisioned it. Sure, if a six-year old was operating it, it would have been fine mounted on the base I had. As it turned out, I had to build a platform to raise it up.

And since it was Rick's birthday, there was a bit of a celebration going on. So building the platform took a bit longer than it should have taken.

A 45-minute project turned into a three hour one, thanks to the birthday celebrations (i.e.Patron and Maker's Mark shots) that were taking place in the shop. DO NOT (I repeat!) DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME.
Here's the unit mounted and hooked up to the dust collector.

This is the fifth drum sander I have owned -- my first was a Performax 37x2 sander which I purchased in the mid 90s.

It was a first generation tool, and there were a few issues with it. But after my pals Dave and Alex tweaked it a bit, it tracked straight, and the drums stayed parallel to the bed.

The sad part is - just when I got the beast working well, I sold it because I moved across the country.
When I got to Vegas and was setting up a new shop, I bought a smaller model - the 16/32 sander.

It pretty much sucked, and within a month or two, I traded it in for a 22-44 sander. Again - major suckage. Why?

Whoever came up the idea of an open ended sander must have been delusional. It just doesn't work. The drum almost never stays parallel with the conveyor bed, and you end up with tapered panels. Sure, you can flip them around and sand them in the other direction, to even things out. But it's a hassle. The idea of an open ended 22" sander that will sand a 44" wide panel is insane. NOT. GONNA. HAPPEN.

Finally, a couple of months ago, I decided to try a drum sander that was captive on both ends. I blogged about it here, and as most of you know, that was a bit of a disaster. Still, I didn't stop searching.

So - today, after unpacking and setting up the sander, I tested it by running a particularly gnarly (but gorgeous!) piece of Cherry through it. Yes, this is a really small sander, but it'll do the trick for a few specific projects around the shop.

Have a look.

By the way, Jet includes this special tool to help clip the sandpaper to the drum. A nice touch, but I've never used it. I've heard it works fine, but my fingers are small enough to attach the paper without too much trouble.

I really hope this is the last sander I have to purchase before I can afford the sander of my dreams.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

New woodworking graduates

Wow, after tonight, I will have completed one of the busiest teaching schedules I've even undertaken. These 30+ individuals were courageous enough to step out of their comfort zones and up to a table saw, many for the very first time. Is it corny to mention how proud I am of them?

Awesome work, great enthusiasm, and a very nice group of Las Vegans.

Here are some pics from these last classes - thanks everyone. Teaching you the fundamentals makes me a better woodworker, too. And it brings out the best in all of us.

(If you click on the slide show, it should bring up a bigger view of it.)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Not yo' mama's typical serving dish

Watching other people make something in wood makes me antsy. I'd rather be doing it myself, you know? That's why I can barely sit through one of Norm's New Yankee Workshop episodes. Sorry Norm!

This project hopefully will replace those funky, segmented serving platters that everyone's mother owns.

A description of how it was made was posted on Lumberjocks by a fellow up north named Chad. Watching someone else make it is a pretty great way to learn how to do it yourself. And - if you're not familiar with LumberJocks, you must check out the site.

Great pictures, and very nice explanation of all the techniques. When we make cutting boards in the Basic Woodworking classes, a lot of students ask about putting in a gravy "moat" around the perimeter of their board. Some have done it, but for the novice, it's a little challenging.

Using core box or
bowl and tray bits, can be tricky, and if you burn the wood, you're going to have some serious sanding to do. You all know how I feel about sanding, right?

But this fellow's post makes me want to dig out some Walnut and get to work! Nice work, Chad!

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Another Fabulous ThunderBird Project

Those Air Force boys sure make life interesting! This week, someone brought another fighter jet control stick to my shop, and asked if I could make a display pedestal for it.

And... could I make it in just three days.

So after listening to what he wanted, I put together this small mock-up of what I had in mind, while he waited. It was such a rush order, I didn't have a lot of time to come up with a couple of sketches, like I normally do. So I grabbed some scrap MDF and cut the small cube that he had described.

The sample box was just a little too small for all the artwork that he wanted to include on this cube, so when I made the actual solid-wood piece, I made it just a bit taller. It's a good thing!

He came back later that day, and picked up the cube so he could have it engraved. The original plan was for me to stain this pedestal, so I started staining the top and bottom pieces, while I awaited the return of the piece he took.

When he came back with it, it had the artwork, which were cloth patches and some metal coins and plates, already glued down to the cube. Check out the very cool artwork of the plane, laser engraved onto the wood. You probably can't see it, but it letters about 1/16 of an inch tall, it says - United States Air Force.

Only problem - if I applied the stain as planned, the engraved artwork would have disappeared.

Uh... what's Plan B?

All four sides of the cube were covered with artwork.

The only alternative with just 24 hours to go was to apply a couple of coats of my new "go to" finish - a Minwax Wipe On Poly. It's easy to control, dries quickly, and makes the wood look great.

I'm not a big fan of two-toned projects, but I didn't have much choice, since the other pieces were already stained. Once I attached the base, I actually really liked the effect it gave this piece.

Mounting the flight stick was another one of those "design-on-the-fly" moments, as he wanted the piece secured with a nut from the bottom, in case it ever needed to be removed. (WTF?) Finding a nut to fit this controller proved to be the most challenging part of this whole piece, but - mission accomplished.

Here is the flight stick, attached to the top piece. They chromed it. Sweet.

And finally, the finished piece, completed with just hours to spare.

Like I said, those Air Force boys sure make life interesting!

Monday, March 07, 2011

Doing the Right Thing!

I have to hand it to Grizzly tools, they did the right thing. Back in December, I ordered one of their 12" drum sanders, the very slick looking Polar Bear series sander.

Even though the tool's 12" capacity was fairly small, the price was right and I felt like it was worth the money, if the tool performed properly.

That's a big IF.

One thing I do when considering a tool purchase is thoroughly research the tool. So I read quite a few comments from people who had purchased this sander, like this woodworker's blog post, and knew going into it that it might have some issues. Still, it sounded like a good value, and since the tool was so small, it wasn't like I was going to use it all the time.


The tool was delivered very quickly, and I mounted it on a sturdy tool stand I had in the shop. The first thing I realized is that the handle that raises and lowers the conveyor table was very short, thus reducing your leverage. That made it very difficult to raise and lower the table smoothly.

Look how short this handle is!

OK, you get what you pay for, so I switched the handle out with another one I had in my shop, a few inches longer.
Problem solved.

My second issue was the Velcro that held on the sanding drum paper started de-laminating from the drum. The machine was only about two weeks old, so a call to Grizzly did the trick. I had a new Velcro drum cover in just a few days.
Later, I noticed that Grizzly recommends that after you install a new piece of hook and loop paper onto the drum, you tape the ends of the drum with 3/4" strapping tape.


If I did that, I would be reducing the size of the drum from an already small 12" to about 10.5". If that was the case, maybe they should advertise this as a 10.5" drum sander. Here is a picture of the ends wrapped with the tape.

Whatever. I didn't wrap the drum with tape on the ends.

Yup, you guessed it - it de-laminated again.
I broke down and taped the paper.

Then - one day, the sander started tripping the circuit breaker for the outlet into which it was plugged. By the time I finally got the sander to start without tripping the breaker, the conveyor wouldn't move.

This was starting to look like a nightmare purchase.

After experimenting with it a bit, I realized that if I manually moved the conveyor just a tiny bit, thus rotating the motor, it would start moving again. Perhaps there were some bad windings in the small drive motor?

I barely know what the hell that means, but the damn motor ran intermittently, and it was completely frustrating.

But - at least I could get the conveyor to work when I needed it to.

Finally - and this was the last straw - the small worm gear that controls raising and lowering the table just simply gave out. This, unfortunately, happened with a piece of wood in the sander. I can't begin to tell you what a PITA it was to dislodge the piece of wood, not to mention the fact that I had a board that was partially sanded - it was one thickness on one end, and a completely different thickness on the other end.

My solution? A kick-ass pair of vice grips allowed me to manually rotate the chain and gears that raise and lower the table. I finished sanding that board manually and threw up my hands - the last straw!

All of this occurred in about five weeks of owning the machine - with approximately 3 hours of usage. Maybe not even that much. Wow.

Of course, the tool had a 30-day money back guarantee. Only I had owned the tool for about 33 days. D'oh!

Luckily, I always save all of the boxes and packing that come with the various tools I buy. A call to Grizzly gave me the necessary return authorization number, and that baby was on it's way back to their factory pronto. It took five calls to their service department, and finally - today I received an answer - they refunded my complete purchase.
At least they did the right thing. Don't get me wrong - I am happy that they did that. Thrilled, in fact.

But wouldn't it have been easier to simply make a better tool? I am quite satisfied that Grizzly treated me fairly, and have nothing bad to say about them. This is truly a case of getting what you pay for.

So here is my new dilemma, - if anyone out there can recommend a small drum sander that is captive on both ends (no cantilevered ends for me, ever again!) - I'd appreciate the recommendation.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

When you can't find your safety glasses...

My friends always send me links to sites that show hilarious photos of ingenious ways that people fix broken things.

One is called - There, I Fixed It, which features red-neck repair solutions. It never fails to make me laugh out loud; Stella thinks I'm nuts.

My sister and her hubby live in rural (i.e. - out in the middle of effing red-neck no-where) North Carolina, which is pretty much Red Neck Central. They would probably love this site, if they had better internet service. Maybe they should try this solution.

Another one is called - I Can Fix That. It's so entertaining, you could lose hours checking out the various "solutions" that are posted.

So my buddy Jay sent me this picture last night. He knows how safety goggle conscious I am in the woodshop. I love this solution!

Maybe these pictures make me laugh so much because my dad was always doing things like this! To everyone who has ever come up with solutions like these - thanks for the laughs!

Saturday, March 05, 2011

SawStop HotDog video

During the first session of every Basic Woodworking class I teach, we thoroughly discuss using a tablesaw. We talk about buying one, assembling it, setting it up, calibrating it, and finally, proper methods for cutting and ripping wood.

But one of the things I tend to forget is that not everyone is familiar with a SawStop Tablesaw. The flesh-detection technology utilized by this saw is nothing short of amazing. Here it their famous video showing what the saw will do if it comes into contact with a "finger" - it's awesome.

Here is another SawStop video, much more interesting.

So what to you think - would you have the courage to test your invention in that way?

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Number 17!

Hey, this is pretty cool.

I received an e-mail last night from Chase Gugenheim, who runs the website Chase wrote to tell me that he chose and blogged about the top 50 Woodworking Blogs, and mine made it onto the list.

Number 17, baby!

I spent a good deal of time last night, checking out some of the other blogs mentioned - some of which I read all the time, and some I'd never heard of. There are some incredibly talented people out there, doing amazing work.

If you love woodworking, you should definitely check the list out!

Off to teach a class... have a great day!

Tuesday, March 01, 2011


Thank god my mom is way more tech savvy than this mom...