Friday, June 25, 2010

Dragging things out a bit

Well, I thought it was high time to check in. Some readers, I can't help but think, may have been wondering where I had gone, as the posting rate has slowed here on the Carpentry Way quite a bit in a past few weeks. Have I been on vacation, working on my tan and learning to para-sail? I wish! Well, I'm not sure about that plan, fine as it may sound, but I have been keeping busy since the completion of the screen.

First off I took on a part time job as an SAT tutor. It's only a few hours of work a week, and it pays quite well. Even the training was paid, as are the meetings. So that has kept me busy. Being a Canadian, the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) was not something I had to deal with during my school years, but here it is a minor industry and no small point of torment for youth looking to get into the college of their choice. It's funny what we humans put ourselves through.

In other news, I've also been helping out some of my relatives with a little house renovation and clean up. Well, not so little actually as the 1912 house is more than 6000 square feet in size, and is in need of a lot of work. There has been some repeated water damage in the basement for instance. I've been dragging stuff out into the yard and piling it for removal. Here's a few photos of the accumulation so far:

I've come across a decent amount of metal as well, which I have piled separately and will be taking to a metal recycling facility shortly:

One of the 'gems' was an old and no longer in service 1937 hot water tank in the basement, which I had to hack apart piece by piece and then don the haz-mat gear to take care of the asbestos insulation. Not such a good time, but in the middle of that old boiler was a copper core weighing over 250 lbs, so I'll get some good money out of it given the high price of copper these days.

So while this grunting and dragging action marks a fairly abrupt departure from what I was last working on, I can assure you all that I'm charging my relatives the big bucks to work for them. Yes, you guessed it, just about free. Anyway it helps them out a lot and builds up my pecs, so I can't complain.

My truck's exhaust pipe broke today so I have something else to fix tomorrow. Nothing so juicy as rusted exhaust pipe fittings...

And carpentry-wise, there is a very intriguing project that has just come into view. I'm in the discussion phase at the moment and will commence drawing for the client really soon. It's a pretty awesome project, a once-in-a-lifetime sort of thing, a purely Japanese structure, and I look forward to sharing the details as this process comes along. For now though, my lips are keeping pretty much shut, and I half-expect I am really having a strange dream.

Thanks for coming by today.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Sets and Sensibility

I was in a tool store yesterday picking up some vacuum bags for my Festool CT33 shopvac. One thing is for sure, you don't want to run the vacuum without the bags, unless you want to pony up for new Hepa filters, etc. The do sell a re-washable bag, and while that is quite appealing, it is also $200 last time I checked. That part's not so appealing - - it's a cloth bag fer gawds sake! So I stick with the paper bags even though in time it will cost more. I sometimes get miserly and pull the stuff out of the bag so I can get a re-use, but that gets old after the first time. Tough call. Someone told me that it is possible to use a sheet of Tyvec® across the interior opening in lieu of a bag but I haven't tested this to see if it would work okay.

Anyway, while browsing around the store, something I invariably do when faced with rack after rack of shiny bits of gear, I noticed the new Festool large router, the 2200 model. Not the lightest lump of metal and plastic I've come across in a portable tool, but it seemed to have some nice features, including an improved depth setting rod adjuster. I looked in the container (yah, I know, 'Systainer') for the accessories, and noticed there wasn't much there. That seemed odd because my other Festool routers come with a bunch of accessories.

Later on, I came across another Systainer, which was labeled as an 'accessory package' for the 2200 router. I peeked inside and noticed that this router comes with a series of different base plates which 'click' into position, along with their edge guide, and a set of special guide bushings, which also 'click' into place. I noticed that these bushings were of a different configuration from the Festool ones I have for my 1400 router. Now, I don't use the ones I have, not at all, because of what I view as a basic design flaw in the product: they move slightly in the router once 'clicked' into position. If there is one thing you don't want to have with a guide bushing it is a movable one, as that ruins concentricity with the cutter and makes the cut line unpredictable, thus spoiling the cut surface.

Seeing the new type of guide bush in the accessories box, I immediately wondered if it might be not only new but magically improved from the type that I already have, so I sauntered on over to the display router, template in hand, and checked it out. In the newer large router, you have to un-lock the entire base plate and take it off before dropping the guide into place, then snap the base plate back on. I did that, and then checked to see if the bushing would move if I tried to wiggle it, and yes, it did. The system still sucks despite the re-design.

There's nothing wrong at all with the somewhat standard Porter Cable type of guide bushing. While my Festool 1400 router does have a template adapter that allows me to fit a PC guide bushing, as the adapter itself can still move around after being, ahem, 'fixed', it is no better.

Another thing about these Festool routers that is somewhat annoying is their base plates, which are some sort of bakelite-like plastic. You cannot see through it. I find that the transparent acrylic base plates, like Pat Warner's, are the go-to choice in my work. They allow you to see the surface you are working on, they are flat, they take a PC guide bushing without fuss and are relatively cheap. With a centering adapter I can make the bushing and base plate nearly very perfectly concentric with the cutter and that leads to better results. Why Festool has to come up with such a relatively complex system with these 6 different interchangeable opaque base plates which click into the router (and no other model or brand I might add) is a little mystifying at first.

But as I looked around the store more I began to see that this 'systems' approach is quickly becoming the gold standard, at least in terms of filling the various company coffers. I saw a Tormek grinder, for instance. I don't own a grinder, however if I did get one I might choose a Tormek, having tried one in the past and thought it was decent. Looking at the display, I noticed that the grinder itself wasn't all they were selling. Wait, there's more! Tormek has a whole series of attachments, each sold separately, which you can buy to sharpen different things. There's the axe sharpening jig, the scissors jig, the small knife jig, the large knife jig, as so forth. Then there's the Tormek machine cover, the optional buffing wheel, the dressing stone, and the friggin' t-shirt and branded line of aftershave too! I do exaggerate slightly of course, but I laugh just thinking about it.

I see the appeal of this system because I am personally somewhat vulnerable to the same sales approach. Since it makes sense that the accessories a company makes for its product would be purpose-designed for each application, function should be good. sometimes aftermarket stuff doesn't interface well, especially if it is rather generic in nature. It isn't always the case though that function of the factory-produced accessories is swell, as my above comment about Festool's template guides notes. Festool's router edge guides are nothing to write home about either, and mine see virtually no use at all. I would have much rather saved a few dollars and bought the router without any attachments, save for the collets, dust funnel, and power cord. But that is not how they want to sell them.

The other thing about this sort of systems approach, besides suckering you in with the promise of integrated function, is the 'collect the whole set' mentality it tends to encourage. This used to be a major weakness of mine, let me tell you. Take magazines like 'Fine' Homebuilding for example. Once I got into that magazine, I started accumulating them as I bought each new and fascinating issue. Then I found a stack of back issues one day in a used book store, and suddenly I was starting to build a set. Then I came across another 'collector' and acquired some of the earliest issues of FHB. I reasoned that I was forming a 'resource library' for myself and kept them all lined up in order, a row about 2 or 3 feet long at one point.

Then I moved house a few times, and faced with lugging about what had now become a fairly weighty collection of paper, and weighing the fact that new issues seemed to have less and less to say to me, and finding I was less and less interested in buying them (but kept doing so for a while anyway on the rationale that I was completing my precious set), I began to reassess. I realized that I was going a little mad actually with this collecting urge. I thumbed though all the issues and culled out those that had nothing of any real interest, and gave away these issues to a couple of friends. Might as well start them off on their own collecting madness, heh-heh! The ultimate revenge is mine!

Then I repeated that process a couple of times over the next few years and managed to cut down the 175 issues to about 25. And I still rarely look in them! I mean, once you've read and understood something, how many times do you really need to look at it again?

If you find yourself with this kind of problem and want to deal with it, try moving a few times and re-assess those heavy boxes - it worked for me. Anyone looking to buy Festool edge guides? - drop me a line :^)

Monday, June 14, 2010


No postings for the past week for this guy as I devoted virtually all of my time to preparing for a talk at Showa College in Boston for the Japan Society. That talk happened yesterday and went fairly well.

Nearly 80 people had signed up to come, however the actual attendance was a bit more than 40. Still, a good crowd. Surprisingly, some of the mundane technical aspects with giving the presentation, involving the computer slide projector and video had various 'issues' which made for some minor hassles and time delays.

I had prepared and prepared, and really it was tough to narrow the material on Japanese residential architecture down. It's such a vast topic really. In the end, I broke the talk into two halves, one on exterior aspects, structural systems, and so forth, and the other, which I will give in the fall sometime, will be on interiors and fittings. Still even with that topic bisection, I was hard-pressed to limit the material, and ended up not being able to get through all the stuff I wanted, despite running a half an hour over the allotted time. It's tough with these one-off presentations to get the sequencing just right. The crowd were quite enthusiastic and I managed to provoke a lot of great questions and fortunately my jokes ever garnered some laughter.

I was exhausted afterwards and will need a day or two to unwind.

In other news, the first of the classes on joinery I'm offering this summer now has enough people signed up to proceed, so I will be contacting those people shortly. The second and longer class is very close to critical mass, and a full month remains for sign up. As far as sign up for this first class goes, the deadline is tomorrow (June 15th) however I will accept applications for another week yet as the course looks set to go ahead.

Thanks for coming by the Carpentry Way today.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Screen Play - Completion!!

Sometimes it's hard to believe one has reached a destination, a brief stop along the Way, but here we are. Dazed and confused, maybe a little bruised, perhaps.

29th and final post in this step-by-step account of the design and construction of a Japanese free-standing screen, or tsuitate. Previous postings in this thread are to be found in the 'Blog Archive' to the right of the page. Thanks for hanging in there!

It was a longish day today that went quite well all around. At this point, I'm feeling pretty expansive and satisfied with the whole thing now that I can take a break, have a beer and unwind. I think assembling a piece without any glue was part of that, as it dropped the usual stress surrounding that process to zero.

There were a myriad of minor tasks to deal with before assembly. Here's a partial rundown:

I tested the fit of the pegs in the tenon mortises, and made a couple of minor trims as a result - it never hurts to double-check these sorts of things:

The pins are Bubinga.

I finish-planed the kōshi ita:

And then there was the matter of applying my maker's mark, which I make in a stylized form of a Chinese Bellflower, kiku, coming out of a pentagonal frame. The pentagon ring is Gabon Ebony, along with the center of the flower, while the petals are Bubinga:

Panning back a few inches, here's a view of the mark installed into one of the feet - the process of making the flower and installing it took a full day:

One of today's satisfying moments was driving the pegs home while tie the feet to the sill and frame uprights:

I dip the pegs in vegetable oil to ease their pathway. Once the peg is home, I use a flush-cut saw on the backside to trim it. It comes out looking like this on the outside face:

The other part of the assembly I was looking forward to was the part where I lock together the frame corners. Here's the start of that process:

Once the miters are together, in go the wedges, tap-tap-tap-tap-ping!:

Fully seated:

Then I trim them:

Then I work the surfaces of both frame members true to one another using various files and chisels:

When it is all cleaned up, on goes the oil - here's how one corner came out:

If I use the flash, the picture turns out quite differently:

So, that was that. Here's the tsuitate then, all together at last - first one side:

And then the other side:

Worm's eye view:

I've still got a minor amount of work with a little more finish oiling here and there, maybe another hour of pottering around. Soon enough i'll get some decent photos taken so i can add it to my portfolio.

Otherwise, that's it. What's next? Oh yeah, the presentation next Sunday which I've got to prepare for....

Thanks for coming by today to see what is what. Your comments are always welcome.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Screen Play (28)

I've got a presentation coming up in Boston next weekend for the Japan Society of Boston, and need to spend time in the next few days preparing for that. I'm hoping for a good turn out and that the audience will find my material interesting.

A few more pictures to present today of the closing stages in my design-build of a Japanese freestanding screen, or tsuitate. It's been a most enjoyable and challenging project so far.

I've managed to oil the frame pieces - here they are sitting outside, out of the sun, drying:

Another view:

I'll give them another inspection and going over tomorrow and then I should be able to move on.

The peg mortising for the tenons on the frame uprights has been completed:

Here's a view of the assembled grilles, leaning next to the wall one against the other:

The 'peculiar' thing about these grilles, I might point out, is that each 0.5" square bar weaves over/under each adjacent bar. Over-under-over-under -- you get the idea. If you think there's nothing weird about that, give it a try.

There are two types of intersections in the grille that I have come up with, as I am doing this unique type of Japanese joinery with an 'improvement' (IMO), by using mitered abutments. These abutments allow for a stronger construction and make chamfering more seamless.

One type of intersection looks like this:

That form of intersection has to use mason's miters, but it is fortunately in the minority, and due to the small size of the chamfers, pretty innocuous.

And the other type, the more numerous version, looks like this:

The backside of the joints, in case you were wondering, looks identical to the faces, save for the chamfering which is absent of course - here's the backside of one of the joins, one of the ones which has a mason's miter on the frontside:

There's also a hexagonal form of fully-woven lattice, like the above version, though the joinery method is slightly different.

Next step is the final assembly. I'll be using no glue, just the two pegs for the feet, and the four shachi-sen to lock it all together.

Well, thanks for dropping by the Carpentry Way today. --> go to post 29

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Screen Play (27)

Just rounding third and into the stretch for home plate, to use a baseball analogy. Post 27 in this build thread detailing the design and construction of a Japanese movable room partition, a tsuitate as this type is called. If you're new to this page or haven't visited for a while, you may wish to take a gander at the Blog Archive to the right of the page to catch up with recent activity.

Here's a look at the upper frame after the profiling is complete and during a recent assembly:

In the fitting process I discovered that the lower frame crosspiece dado was a slightly tight fit for the panels, so I eased it using a couple of Lie Neilsen side rebate planes:

To tell the truth, I wished I had used my router table for that, as I found the plane hold-down mechanism for the blade bruised the opposite side of the dado. That necessitated planing the upper surface of the stick down a bit more, and fortunately I had a little extra meat on there so it was no big deal.

Here's one of the lattice frames assembled, and laid onto the main frame so as to enable the end cuts of the bars to be marked out:

Another view:

Then I trimmed the grill bars to length, chamfered the ends and fitted it into the frame. Then I fitted the middle panel into place and did an assembly with just that one side of the lattice in place:

I think the Bubinga and Mahogany work well together:

I plan to leave the oil off the grill bars and just oil the frame and feet.

Next it was time to superimpose the one fitted lattice frame to the other side, using the first as a dimensional template to mark the other one for length:

Then it was time to trim the excess bits from the other lattice frame members:

Following that, it was time to work on fitting the two side panels:

These panels were both a bit tight in their respective dadoes, and I decided to take the edges of the panels down a bit in dimension instead of mess around with the frame dadoes. With a digital caliper such matters are relatively straightforward, though a lot of elbow grease was involved in the scrape out and re-oiling. Eventually the side panels were made to come to an accommodating arrangement with the frame dadoes, and the assembly went together with a little coaxing.

I'm now going to leave, as a bit of a surprise, the overall assembled view of the piece, as it might leave the final pictures as a bit of an anti-climax. So, next is a look at fitting the shachi-sen, which are the wedged-pins for fixing the corner joints together. Here's one of the critters:

In it goes:

These pins are parallelogram in cross-section and slightly tapered in two directions, so they need to be made with care and attention.

Here are a pair of them 2/3 of the way in (this is only a test fit):

I also marked out the tenons on the lower frame members for the pegs, which will require the frame be taken apart again. Once apart, I will mortise for the pegs, start in on the oiling, and affix my makers' mark somewhere. Then it will be the final assembly, drive the pegs and wedges in and trim them cleanly. Hope you come back for that.

Thanks for dropping by today! --> go to post 28

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Screen Play (26)

Back to the fun with the tsuitate build-up. A tsuitate is a variety of Japanese screen, or room partition, with a heavy frame. The power outage we experienced here last week slowed my pace a bit, but I am getting close to wrapping this up now. Previous installments in this build thread are archived to the right of the page.

I am down to a myriad of relatively minor tasks, so today's post kind of hops around a bit. One job was to finish up the mortises to hold the grill bars, or kōshi, which I had previously roughed out with my router. I took a scrap piece of bar, and trimmed a rebate on its end, with a dead-square ledge - this will act as a fitting and marking piece for the mortises:

The bars have an angled chamfer on their front faces, and the mortise is to fully house the bars, thus I am making a mortise with little angled returns in the corners. I insert the bar in the mortise and mark out around it:

Then I have to chisel out, staying inside of the pencil lines:

A completed pair of mortises:

With a bar fitted:

Another task was chamfering the main frame parts. I had a lot of indecision around the chamfering, trying to decide between using a faceted chamber or a rounded one. I had already decided to use a faceted non-45˚ chamfer on the sill piece, however that didn't seem quite right for the other frame members as they are curvilinear. Eventually I settled on doing rounded chamfers on all the curved parts and the lower cross piece, and leaving the sill as it was. Then it was a matter of deciding how large a chamfer to put on, an aspect I am still contemplating. I have made an initial run down the outside of the frame with a 3/16" curved chamfer, and am trying to decide if I want to go further.

After the chamfer of that outside arris, which I accomplished with my router, I tidy up the points of intersection at the upper frame joints, using a file:

Another minor job was finish planing the lower cross piece, after the mortises on it had been completed:

Now, on to the feet. Last time I fitted them they came to about 1cm from fully together and then stopped. I figured out the points of interference and made the necessary adjustments. Then I fitted the pieces back up and marked out for the mortises, which, like the ones for the grill bars detailed above, are fully housed with accommodation in the corners of the mortise for the chamfers of the connecting piece:

Time for another fit up:

This time they close up, almost perfectly:

I needed to trim a small amount off the interior shoulders to seal the deal:

Fitted up again - this time the fit has nothing to worry about, and this view is from the floor looking up:

I'm pleased with the way these feet look in terms of their profile and the way the joints came out:

I need to next mark out for the peg on the tenon which will lock the foot in place to the frame, but my hollow mortising chisel is a half an hour drive away so that will wait for a while.

Next up: a little work on the frame members with a spokeshave:

I can't reach everywhere with the spokeshave however, so I have to resort to a little filing and even, god help me, a minor amount of sanding in the nooks and crannies. The corners are starting to come along fairly well at this point:

Well that's all for today my friends. Thanks for swinging by the Carpentry Way on your travels, and comments are always welcome. --> go to post 27