This is how most of my projects go; at least those that do not begin with a set of plans.

It all started with a revolver.

Last summer I bought myself a cap-and-ball revolver which I had desired for a long time.  I enjoyed making lots of black powder smoke with it while shooting at targets.  Then it came time to clean it.  None of my screwdrivers would fit the slotted screws.  A bit of research revealed that they were a special size (which was obvious) and that I needed a set of “gunsmith’s” screwdrivers.  A quick google then told me that those cost a bit much for something that often came for free with a new drill so I decided to grab one of the many drill-driver tips that I had laying around and grind them to the correct size.  Then I would turn some cherry scraps into a handle.

Then it all became a blur of activity.  Like this:

Get out the lathe from under the router table and turn some quick handles.

Realize that the belt is broken.

Contact the vendor – item is discontinued.

Figure out what the belt must have looked like.  Order one from amazon. Wait one week.  Install belt.

Fix lathe – turn handles.  Hmmm… tools are dull.

Get grinder from under bench and set up on router table.  Never use that router anyway.  Sharpen tools.

Grind the screwdriver tips down to size.

OK, screwdriver tip is too long, I’ll just cut off the excess with my hacksaw.  Whoa! The hacksaw is just skating across the surface of the old screwdriver bit (now a gunsmith screwdriver); drat! It’s hardened steel.

How to cut this?  Grinder!  Need a cutoff wheel in an angle grinder.  I have an angle grinder but no cutoff wheels.  Well, stick the angle grinder in the vise, put on the face shield, and try grinding it apart using the corner of the grinding wheel.

Works but slowly.  Forget that this makes things really hot.  Drop bit on floor.  (Profanity optional) Get some ice and cool off the bit.  Done!

Get small drill press and put on bench.

Figure out which drill size to use.  Hey, that’s 1/4″ – use a brad point so that you’ll hit the center.

Can’t find brad points so use regular twist drill.  Wander off center.

Search for epoxy.  Oh yeah, that last bunch leaked all over the shelf and was thrown away.  Hey, here’s some JBWeld.  Can’t remember what I bought that for but it will probably be good enough.  Use that.

Glue tips into handles.

Grab Watco Danish Oil.  This will be quicker if I just dip them.  Find something that might suffice.  Here’s a Mason jar.  What’s that black stuff? Could that be gunpowder?  Probably nothing; rinse it out and use it.

Pour in Watco.

Dip handles.

Go outside to pour remaining Watco back into can.  Didn’t drip much.

Realize that it would have taken less time to just wipe the  Watco on with a rag like the can says.

Step back and take photos.  Blog about it.

At least I did think ahead enough to use rectangular stock in order to ensure that there would be a flat place on both sides after turning.  That way, they won’t roll around on the bench when I lay them down.  All in all it’s a success because even though it would have been faster in the long run to just buy some online, it was very pleasing to make my own from junk and scraps I already had.  All Hail Self Sufficiency!

Not great but not bad either.  And... free!

Not great but not bad either. And… free!

After the holidays, we settled back into our schedule of home improvements. We had paid for our granite countertops back in November and right after the holiday, we were notified that they were ready to install. This was the trigger for the rest of the kitchen projects. The countertops were duly installed and looked as good as we expected.

Then we could finalize our choice for backsplash tile and get that going. This had worried me quite a bit because I’ve never done tile work before. I’ve watched a lot of video on the subject though and my friend Mike came over who has done a lot of tile installation before. Between those two things, it went perfectly and the kitchen looks really nice.

Anyone who has ever redone a kitchen knows that it’s difficult. The project is always pretty large, subject to scope-creep, and is very disruptive because that’s the most commonly used room in the house. Cost containment is very tricky. But we slowly and systematically began at the ceiling and have been working our way down and now we’re done with everything but the floor although Melissa has lately added a desire for crown molding. We’ve also ordered a new table and chairs to make everything look all matchy-matchy. Definitely coming down the home stretch.

Now that I’ve tiled the backsplash without difficulty, I think we’ll tile the floor too. I would prefer hardwood but that just seems like a bad idea in a kitchen no matter how waterproof the floor finish claims to be.

In between these events fell Valentine’s Day which I really dislike but Melissa made it easy – she bought us tickets to see “Dearly Departed” at the local Community College theater which was a small black-box-theater presentation. At the last minute Erin decided to come home for the weekend – perhaps because it was Valentine’s Day weekend and all her friends were all out on some grand date-night. We got another ticket and she went with us and by a pleasant coincidence discovered that one of her old drama buddies from high-school was in the cast. He was excited to see her in the audience and afterwards at the lobby meet-and-greet.

It has snowed several times which is always an inconvenience for me but not an insurmountable one. Luckily, those have usually occurred on the weekend which gave me a chance to shovel off the driveway at my own pace. The last time was, to me, a typical Oklahoma irony: I went to the hardware store to buy both ice-melt and pre-emergent herbicide for the lawn.

We got to see Erin again not long after when the alternator went out on her car. I drove over to take care of it one morning. For a Honda, that car has been a disappointment. It has required much more maintenance than any other car we’ve owned. Evan’s Honda is several years older and is still going strong with only routine maintenance. We’ve given lots of thought to trading it for another car before she graduates.

In the meantime, our niece and nephew have both bought houses that require some fix-up. As a result, we have had a couple of family painting parties to get more free labor on the project to get it done before they move in. My job is of course painter. I specialize in cutting in near trim and other places where masking tape is normally needed although I never use masking tape. Those years in high school art class are actually coming in handy. And when we’re not doing that, we can usually go help the in-laws babysit the infant children of the aforementioned niece and nephew so there’s a bonus.

I’m itching to start another woodworking project but we’ve got a couple more things to do to the kitchen first. Also, this weekend is the big spring Home Show at the Expo Center and I intend to go and seek out someone who can take care of the popcorn on my cathedral ceiling in the living room. After that, we can repaint that area and call the house mostly done.

But that is by no means the end of the ideas that we have. There’s the exterior for example…

For some reason, I remember hanging crown molding as no big deal. It was only this weekend that I remembered how frustrating it can be.

First I made the rounds of all the local family members borrowing tools. I have a compressor but it has lived at a brother-in-law’s place for several years and he thinks it’s his. When I got it, I found a leak in the hose. It’s just old and cracked – I’m not blaming anybody. The miter saw blade was so dull that it made more smoke than sawdust. The nailer I borrowed was described to me as fitting for crown molding but only shot little brads at 1 ¼” which is way too small. When I tried it, the brads didn’t even get all the way through the drywall much less into a stud behind. So the project started out with three strikes. I used the saw anyway.

All my crown projects have been hanging it in normal rooms so all the miters were inside corners. This saw I borrowed (same as the one I used to have) is apparently not intended for anything other than flat material because its fence is tiny. There’s no way I could put the molding on it in its natural configuration so I had to look up the angles you use when cutting it while it’s laying flat. Of course, I messed up the first end by having the saw tilted in the wrong direction.

Then I followed the usual advice to use a coping saw to cut the ends to make them fit. I’ll just cut to the chase and summarize by saying that today I sent Melissa to the hardware store for a tube of caulk.

Today, I remembered that one of our IT guys is a former trim carpenter. He told me that he got tired of always working in the cold, wet, and/or heat so he learned system administration. I consulted with him on the crown molding issue. His reaction was predictable; very sympathetic. I guess it’s tricky even for the pros.

He advised several things. Always cut it about 1/8” over. Then bow it in the middle as you position the ends and it will force the ends into place. It may crush the fibers at the edges of your coped ends but that will close up gaps. Also, as you use the coping saw, you have to undercut it a lot – more than you think. That makes it hard to follow your line since small changes in the angle of your saw make big changes in where the teeth come out at the surface of your cut and it’s easy to get off your line. He used a pencil to darken the line to make things easier to see. This also makes the cut edge a bit fragile but it won’t fit otherwise. Then occasionally you have to roll the molding one way or the other to make the coped end fit the profile of the mating piece.

It’s very fiddly work and the least little mistake in measuring, marking, or cutting makes a big difference in the outcome. I haven’t tried just cutting a simple miter and avoiding the coping saw thing but it must be even harder to get that right or the pros wouldn’t use the coping saw.

Back before Christmas, Evan sent me some photos of some boxes that were being sold as “shaving boxes”. They are a simple wooden box with a split top. The inside surface of the top has a mirror on it and you can fold back one half of the top to extend the mirror. I think you are supposed to carry all your old-school shaving accoutrements (brush, mug, straight razor, soap, etc) in this and use it while traveling. It does look cool.

Later on, right before he and Cassie came for the holidays he asked me if we could make one together. This is pretty much every woodworker’s dream so we texted back and forth on the subject of design for a few days until we settled upon what he wanted it to look like. This is why I love cell phones (and partially why I don’t blog much – phones are easier); I could sketch something quickly on a piece of paper, photograph it, and send it quickly and easily. This was easier than using a drawing app for me. He sized it to carry his things specifically.

We got busy the day after Christmas. I had some leftover cherry from my bed project and I had already cut these to size and planed them down to the desired thickness. We spent a few hours shivering in the frigid garage laying out dovetails and cutting them until we couldn’t stand it anymore. We had one more such session but couldn’t finish the project and I got it done after they had left. As always, the finishing tool the longest. I actually bought some gel stain in a cherry color because that’s what he wanted and this looked really nice (normally I wouldn’t stain cherry). I used polyurethane on it since it was to be used for potentially wet things and I added many coats until I built up a film to make sure it was all waterproof inside and out. This was what he preferred anyway – most people do.

As with all my creations, I see all the flaws and they bother me forever after. I end up almost wishing I could start over. I suppose many other woodworkers feel that way although it’s difficult for me to imagine, for example, Sam Maloof ever feeling any of his chairs were substandard in any way. Still, Evan seems happy with it and even Melissa put it on display on a shelf for a month or so until he could come get it.

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I haven’t been blogging much other than woodworking stuff but to fail to blog about Evan’s wedding would be a fathering fail of Biblical proportion.

It was great.

But of course a few details are in order.

Because Cassie had family in Hollister, they had the wedding in Branson. As a result, family and friends who may not otherwise have made the trip actually decided to do so and make a little vacation of it. The attendance; therefore, was high.

Melissa had worked on the rehearsal with her usual gusto and the rehearsal and subsequent dinner were flawless. The ceremony and reception were at the Keeter Center on the campus of College of the Ozarks and the rehearsal dinner was at the ‘official’ hotel: The Grand Plaza. It was pretty cool to have half the entire 8th floor occupied by friends and family of everyone. Plus the breakfast buffet was open from 7 till 10 and I was up there for the entire time every day. There was always some family member or friend coming in who I could talk to.

There were many little flourishes that set the event apart and provided for memories. Melissa had printed and framed a banquet table’s worth of photos of Evan and Cassie at all ages which everyone seemed to enjoy looking at before the rehearsal dinner started and she had printed them all up into a book which was a surprise gift for them after dinner. Further, she had bought little Arkansas Razorback shirts for the flower girls and ring bearer sort of as a joke on those who were from Missouri but they were well received (one of them was seen the next day at the outlet mall wearing it). I had made their wedding cake topper for them (Han Solo and Princess Leia) which also brought many positive comments.

Melissa had prompted certain people to prepare some remarks to give after dinner; a few were funny stories but most were sentimental feelings delivered with voices choked with emotion. It was a good experience all around.

It was a rainy weekend but Saturday afternoon was clear and sunny for the wedding and reception; after that none of us cared about what happened with the weather. Good thing too since it started raining cats and dogs early Sunday morning and never really stopped. We left on Monday at mid-day and it was still rainy although as we got back into Oklahoma, the rains stopped and it got back to the usual August 100 degree temperature.

After Evan and Cassie left, we struggled with what to do under the rainy conditions. The shopping venues were mobbed as if it were Black Friday. We ended up braving the crowds at the outlet mall and then going to one of the little-known shows with Mel’s sister and my brother (plus spouses and Erin). This bit of dinner theater proved sufficiently entertaining to make it worth doing and we got a very good souvenir photo out of it. One of those goofy ones.

A hundred little things happened to make the weekend memorable. I look forward to having Cassie as a daughter-in-law. I will leave them alone for as long as I can to allow them to get used to their lives together. I look forward to the future.

Never has the phrase “Your mileage may vary” been more applicable.  The decisions I made as to how I worked were heavily influenced by how little space I have to work in coupled with the fact that I have a strange aversion to loud noises ( my love of rock music not withstanding).  Everybody brings their own biases into the process and what works for me may drive other people crazy.  In the end, it’s about your end product; if you produce something useful or beautiful (or both), that is success.  But here are some observations in no particular order:

1)      For mortises, avoid the drill-out-most-of-it method.  Chiseling out the rest tends to leave a tapered mortise wall – at least that’s how it worked for me.  Using a square block of wood to guide the chisel introduces just enough fiddling and clamping that it become quicker and easier to just bash them out with a chisel – that works better than you think it will.  Or buy a hollow chisel mortiser.  Or buy a Festool domino.  But if you’ve got the money and/or space for that, you probably never even went through any of this hand-tool business anyway.

2)      A router plane and a shoulder plane turn the process of making tenons from near-impossible to near perfect.  Again, this is true if you’re using hand tools.  But I’m gonna claim that even if you get rid of most of the waste with a power tool, these two hand tools will complete the tenon with perfection and avoid your having to spend a lot of time fiddling with a jig.   But hey, we all make choices…

3)      Laying out things works so much better with a divider than with even the most accurate tape measure.  And the more mortises you have, the more the layout will get out of whack with even the tiniest error creeping in at each measurement.

4)      Waxing the sole of a hand plane makes a huge difference in how much energy it takes to push the plane.

5)      Sharpening a saw makes a huge difference in how fast it cuts.  This seems obvious but it is still striking when you first experience it.  Perhaps because dullness sets in very slowly and you aren’t aware of how gradually things are getting worse.

6)      The humble holdfast is more valuable than any F-clamp.  And faster.

7)      The chamfer is an attractive accent and extremely easy to do with a handplane or spokeshave.  For me, it went faster than a router when I factored in the time it took to find the chamfering bit and get it installed into the router table and hook up the dust collection.  The crossover seemed to have been about twelve linear feet of chamfering – more than that and it became feasible to do all the router set-up.  But the routerless method was more pleasant due to the lack of noise.  If noise doesn’t bother you, then route on!

8)      You have got to learn to cut as close to your line as possible – whether with a hand saw of powered one.  Splitting the line is not some high-minded goal – you’ve really got to do that or risk making a lot of work for yourself later on.

9)      If you use hand tools at all, your bench becomes all-important; it is as much a tool as anything else.  If you are an all-power-tool person, then all you need is a table to assemble parts on.

10)   Everything is great until you have to work on an especially large or long part.  Then your tried and true methods of work have to be altered.  A long bed rail may force you to abandon your precious band saw (or, hypothetically, your table saw with a tenoning jig that holds the work vertically) and grab a hand saw anyway because that’s really the only way to attend to that tenon on the end of it.

11)   A surface planer truly is a luxury that almost anyone can justify.  Life would be extremely difficult without it.

12)   A project becomes almost chess-like when you try to look ahead several moves in order to match the pieces of wood you have with the project you’re building but to do so successfully will make the project end up looking noticeably better.

13)   Sharpness is important but it seems that only the smoothing plane and a block plane intended for doing end-grain need to be as sharp as a razor.

I had one of those flattering but creepy moments this weekend when a got a phone call from someone who had seen one of my projects on the WoodWhisperer website and wanted to know if I would take a commission to make one for him. Somehow, I end up surprised when I put something online and someone actually looks at it.

On the one hand, I’m flattered. On the other hand I’ve never been contacted for a commission before. Kinda threw me for a minute.

FYI, it was an orrery I had made using a CNC router. That’s a mechanical model of the solar system where you can turn a crank and watch the planets move realistically. He was a teacher and wanted one for his astronomy classes.

this is it

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