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Sanding: A New Era?

Sanding is such a pain. The dust, the amount of time, the different grits; the swirl marks, the inaccessible spaces, contoured surfaces, etc! I hate doing it – it seems to take forever, not to mention having to look for swirl marks, watching out you don’t create a divot by sanding in one spot too long, or having to change paper every 3.2 seconds.

The thing is, it’s so critical to have a smooth, scratch-free surface for your finish. You can have a great project – wonderful design, tight joints, beautiful wood, and so on, but if you don’t prep that wood correctly, you’re finish will just make it look awful. I think for a lot of woodworkers, finishing – and that includes sanding – is the weaker part of our skill set.

Complicating things, how far do you sand to? I’ve heard guys say that just using a card (or cabinet) scraper is enough, or that 180 is fine, while some take it up to 400 – or beyond. Then you have the issue of some woods taking stain worse than others – blotching cherry comes to mind; and don’t forget end grain staining darker than surface grain!

I’m starting to make a few bucks at woodworking, after putting in my due, and of course, time is money. Sanding just takes way too long. A necessary evil? A cost of doing business?

Maybe not anymore.

No, i’m not talking about getting one of those multi-thousand dollar drum sanding machines – though they are kinda nice, if you have the room, thousands of dollars, a 220V outlet, and a industrial dust extraction system. And don’t forget, you have to change the belt grits manually. Ugh.

Hopefully, I’m about to change all that. I need to. Not only would I benefit from this new way of sanding, but you would too. 

I’m developing a system to cut down the amount of sanding time – by about 75% – and improve the results to boot. Not only brainstorming, but I’ve actually tested this system. This system is hand sanding – old school – and not some new expensive machine; don’t cringe. I was able to gauge how much faster my system is by taking a piece of lumber and after planing and thickness planing it, scribbling over it with a pencil (as you would before thickness planning it to see if you flattened it correctly), and then seeing how long it would take to “erase” those marks. In my estimation, this is a great way to gauge if you’ve sanded enough, and if you’ve sanded the board (pretty much) completely. I used the random-orbit sander as you should, flat to the surface, and not just one edge. I then used my hand sanding system with the same grit – 80, and it was amazingly faster. Not only that, but since I went with the grain in my hand sanding method, there was no swirl marks.

Other benefits of my system, in addition to the amazing speed, simplicity, and superior results, is that the sandpaper lasts substantially longer than the random-orbit sanding disks you bought at Home Depot. No noise, no expensive tool to buy; just quick sanding with great results. What’s not to love?

I’ll keep you posted on the progress.

 
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Posted by on January 3, 2013 in BlogNotes

 

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SketchUp: Worth Learning

Sketchup is a free drafting program from Google. They created it to be used to generate 3D buildings for their Google Maps feature. Woodworkers use it to make plans with.

Problem is, it has pretty steep learning curve. I gave it up twice. I know other guys that have tried it as well, and just gave up. I couldn’t blame them. However, I did go back to it, and forced myself to learn it, and a book called Google Sketchup for Dummies, by Aidan Chopra, helped out a lot. He also has YouTube videos too which are very helpful.

So why even bother using SU (Shorthand for Sketchup)? Why not just use paper and pencil, the old school way?

Well, obviously, there is a lot less erasing, lol. Besides that, I like the way I can play with pieces so easily in virtual space. I can concentrate on the look first, and the technical later. I can go into joints, and see how they’ll work; I can see if certain woods would go together nicely, or not, because I can give each piece a texture – make this piece oak, that piece cherry. I get exact measurements, whether it be degrees of an arc, or length of a piece. I can “explode” the drawing, like they do in magazines, so I can get a better idea visually of how everything goes together, and can even print out the pieces and their measurements for use in the shop. Also, you can print the pieces at 100% size, so you can use them as a template for a complex shape. I hear you can even make SU generate a cutting diagram on a virtual board!

In short, there is a LOT that SU can do for you, the woodworker, and you really should take the time to learn it, if you ever think you’re going to want to make up your own plans someday.

 
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Posted by on June 15, 2012 in BlogNotes

 

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Mistakes are Just Forced Opportunities

I make mistakes in the wood shop – too many.

Sometimes “mistakes” are just forced opportunities.

One example was Edison’s attempt to make a telegraphic-telephonic repeating and recording device, it didn’t work, but when somebody gave it a spin it sounded like human speech. Edison started from that chance observation and developed the phonograph.

It can also happen in the shop.


For example, I was making a mantle clock, about 16″ high, shown here:

Keene Mantle Clock

I had to rabbet the sides of the clock to recive the back door. I did this on my router table. It was a 1/4” rabbett on a 1/2” stock. Of course, I set up and tested the rabbett on a scrap piece of stock. Worked fine. Right depth and so on. My mistake was, I did the whole depth in one pass on the real pieces. I should have done an 1/8” at a time, instead of the whole 1/4”. What ended up happening was, the bit crept out of the collet on the router, cutting deeper than I wanted. Ugh!

The only option was to throw out 4 nice pieces of maple ( I was making two clocks), or get creative.

What I ended up doing was re-rabbetting all four pieces to an equal depth, and then gluing in a strip of paduak to bring the rabbett back up to the originally intended 1/4” depth. The result was a more visually appealing ( I think) back of these pieces.

Obviously, sometimes mistakes can’t be fixed; if you needed a piece to be 8” long, and you cut it to 7”, you probably can’t just glue it back on and hope no one will notice. Some mistakes are final.

But other times, if you get creative, you can turn mistakes into a positive.

 
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Posted by on June 15, 2012 in BlogNotes

 

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Dimensioning Your Wood; Let Someone Else?

drum sanderA great part of our time spent in the shop is for breaking down lumber into final (or near final) sizes. For the woodworker trying to make some production time ( as opposed to the occasional weekend project), time is money, and also frustration (sometimes) and even danger. So why not pay someone to take that on?

Let me get a little more specific. Let’s say you’re going to do a craft or trade show – you need to get quite a bit of product ready, in other words. Or maybe your’re making several of the same pieces for Christmas presents. Either way, you’ve got a lot of breaking down of lumber to do. Depending on your lumber supplier, you’re either going to get rough sawn wood, with no side planed, or wood fully dimensioned – like you would see at Home Depot or Lowes. With the latter, all you have to do is cut it to a final dimension, and you’re ready to go. With the former, you have to surface plane a wide flat side, then joint the two edges, finishing it to final thickness at a planer. That’s a lot of sawdust, and also more opportunities to get injured, nick a blade, or generally add wear and tear to your equipment. Not only that, but also the fairly large amount of time that takes.

More and more, I’m having my lumber guy finally dimension my stock. Obviously, I can’t have him cut final size lengths and widths (usually), but I can have him plane and joint all four sides; he’s got the larger jointer and planer to handle up to 8″ wide lumber, and I don’t. His thickness planer has a three-sided spherical head, which means I sand a LOT less. When I get back to the shop, I just have to rip and cut, and I’m ready. I can concentrate more on the quality of fitting the pieces together, and the finish, rather than breaking down lumber.

And if you think it’s expensive, it’s really not – check with your lumber supplier; it’s usually so much per foot, but I find it well worth the price.

Now I understand that some guys like to do all the dimensioning and breaking down themselves, because the need certain parts of the board, have an odd size, or whatever. But generally speaking, out sourcing this part of the process is well worth the money.

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2012 in BlogNotes

 

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Turning mistakes into opportunities.

We’ve all done it; cut some piece in our project the wrong size, accidentally gouged it, or otherwise messed it up. Usually, we just move on to another piece, discarding that one.

Sometimes “mistakes” can actually be opportunities in disguise.

One example was Edison’s attempt to make a telegraphic-telephonic repeating and recording device, it didn’t work, but when somebody gave it a spin it sounded like human speech. Edison started from that chance observation and developed the phonograph.

It can also happen in the shop.

While developing my clock Keene, I turned would could have been a disaster into a chance to get really creative.

Take a look at this picture – especially the shot of the back of the clock:

craftsman clocks

Look at the sides of the door. You’ll see the back door, which is quilted maple, a thin sliver of Paduak, and then more maple. It’s a nice visual interest; otherwise, it would have been just plain maple on maple, up to the Paduak leg.

It wasn’t intended that way! Here’s the back-story:

I had to rabbet the sides of the clock to recive the back door. I did this on my router table. It was a 1/4” rabbett on a 1/2” stock. Of course, I set up and tested the rabbett on a scrap piece of stock. Worked fine. Right depth and so on. My mistake was, I did the whole depth in one pass on the real pieces. I should have done an 1/8” at a time, instead of the whole 1/4”. What ended up happening was, the bit crept out of the collet on the router, cutting deeper than I wanted. Ugh!

The only option was to throw out 4 nice pieces of maple ( I was making two clocks), or get creative.

What I ended up doing was re-rabbetting all four pieces to an equal depth, and then gluing in a strip of paduak to bring the rabbett back up to the originally intended 1/4” depth, to properly receive the door. The result was a more visually appealing ( I think) back of these pieces.

Obviously, sometimes mistakes can’t be fixed; if you needed a piece to be 8” long, and you cut it to 7”, you probably can’t just glue it back on and hope no one will notice. Some mistakes are final.

But other times, if you get creative, you can turn mistakes into a positive.

 
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Posted by on January 28, 2012 in BlogNotes

 

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