March 2014


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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