Category Archives: Shop Talk

I’m a Chair Surgeon

I loved – and still do love – the original Star Trek series. It was so forward thinking in its scope. I mean, it had Earthlings exploring deep into space, encountering new civilizations and attempting to make peace with them to bring them into alliance. Trying to avoid war at all costs, but not afraid to kick butt when it was important enough to do it.

Bones McCoy

Of all the character in the show, DeForest Kelly’s Bones McCoy was one of my favorites. He was grouchy, excitable, moody – but there was no one in Starfleet who was as skilled as he was. He could diagnose and treat just about anything that ailed the crew, and his country doctor mannerisms endeared him to the crew.

I must be getting the same reputation for fixing broken chairs. Back in 2011, I fixed a chair for friends who brought an antique model back from Sweden. Now, this year, I got a call from a couple of friends that Rhonda and I know very well. It seems they had a similar issue at their house where someone had broken one of their dining room chairs. Ooops. Could I fix it?

Oooh, not good

Damnit, Jim, I’m a woodworker, not a furniture repairman. But, knowing that our friends really needed the chair fixed, I agreed.

Wow, was it busted. The chair was held together with hanger bolts through the front legs and some wooden corner brackets screwed into place. What had happened was that someone had bounced onto the chair and snapped the corner brace, which loosened the entire assembly. OK, I had to think how I was going to do this.

Broken brace

The rails of the chair were held in place – well, there was no joint holding them in place. They simply butted to the leg, with this corner brace system. This was a blessing in disguise, because I knew I could help rebuild the joint using some other system. After scratching my head for a while, i thought that dowels would be the best option. So, the first thing was to take the piece apart.

The assemblies disassembled

With them all apart, I broke out my Joint Genie doweling jig and set it up to cut a series of holes in the rails and the legs. The jig gave me good alignment and made drilling matching holes easy.

Doweling jig

With the holes bored in the rails and the matching holes in the legs, I filled the holes with dowel pins, but no glue. I figured that the chair may one day need to be broken apart again for repair, so using the dowels for alignment and joint reinforcement would make sense.

Spiky with dowels

With the dowels in place, I clamped everything together and mounted the corner braces back in place. They had enough material left over to lock into the grooves on the rails, and I screwed them back into place and bolted everything together tightly.

Bolted together

Once I had that taken care of, I then reattached the seat to the frame with four long screws, and voila, the chair was ready for a test.

The chair on its feet

It’s actually a very comfortable chair, and it looks like it’s ready for many long years of service at the dining room table.

I'm not a bricklayer...

In the immortal words of Bones McCoy, I’m beginning to think I can cure a rainy day…

Weasel away the ideas

Good morning. It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance. My name is Gino D. Weasel, and I am one of the regular shop weasels who loves to keep Tom and Iggy on their toes.

Gino D. Weasel at your service

You have no doubt read of my exploits, and you know that my brethren and sisteren (?) enjoy nothing more than to hide tools. (Well, we also enjoy vanilla ice cream and Barry Manilow songs, but that’s another post for another day. After all, we can’t smile without him…) Since Iggy has cleaned up Tom’s shop, I need fresh territory to plunder from, and believe me, I found just the place.

The bookshelf

Just look at this mess. Tom has been subscribing to woodworking magazines and buying woodworking books since many years before I was just a wee pup. They are a great resource, full of plans, techniques, tool reviews and woodworking wit and wisdom. But, man, he has absolutely no idea what’s buried in here.

Hidey Hole

Not only is the bookshelf packed, there is a SECOND hidey hole off to the side of his TV where he stashes even MORE woodworking goodies. Articles he printed from – get this – America Online when that was a big deal. I hear stories about it…

You've Got Mail!

The funniest part is that I know both Tom and Iggy frequently refer back to this library of goodies. Now, wouldn’t it be funny if I had my way with the items in here and made a few of the more frequently referenced materials just – I dunno – vanish?  Oh, that would be worth tons of laughs for me!

Take this one for a drag

So, here’s the deal, Tom and Iggy. You guys need to go through your reference materials and get them cleaned up, or they will continue to disappear just when you need them most. In fact, I’ll start with this book from this other Goombah woodworker. No one will miss this one!

Might I suggest, perhaps, that you be a little altruistic and consider donating some of these moldy oldies to the local library, or find a shop class that could use a little reference material for the students? Not a terrible idea if I say so myself.

Of course it’s a good idea. I’m a weasel, and that’s my job!

(A special thanks to Steven Iovino for his hard work on this post.)

Evolving pieces

Isn’t it amazing how furniture needs and styles have changed over the decades?

The reason I bring this up is that twice in the past month, I have seen some sweet looking armoires. One was a piece that my friends Chris and Sofie gave to another one of my friends who needed a closet space the ‘den’ of a house he bought. Another time was when I was in Yuma in the Casita next to my friend Kevin’s home on the big western swing. The Casita didn’t have a closet.

A clothes Armoire

Why did these two pieces stand out so much? It’s because in most houses, they are 100% unnecessary. That hasn’t always been the case. Before today’s home with walk in closets that – in some cases – are larger than most bedrooms, people just didn’t have that many clothes.

Hello in there!

Add to the fact that the average home built today has an extra 1,000 square feet than the average home built in 1973, and you start to get the idea that a separate piece of furniture to hold clothing is becoming a quaint anachronism – kind of like a pump to draw water from a well to do the cooking. Or building a hope chest for a young lady to keep her wedding dowry in – wait a second, I have built three of those!

Another piece that has changed dramatically over the years has been the TV entertainment center. In years past, entertainment centers were built around deep, heavy picture tube TVs, which required a great deal of size. Today’s flat screens, well, I’m surprised by how inexpensive they are.

Back when the kids were little, Rhonda and I bought a 32 inch picture tube TV for about $800, and we thought we got a heck of a deal on a store demo model. I built my breakfront entertainment center around the dimensions of that TV, and I ensured that the piece would serve as storage and a center for all of our viewing needs.

This past weekend when I was in Best Buy (I had to buy a new Mac Mini because the hard drive on our seven year old MacPro bit the dust), I saw 36 inch flat screens for $239.

Now, if you look for plans to build an entertainment center, you will find that most are low-slung affairs with space for the TV to perch on top or be mounted to the wall above.

What has become of those large TV cabinets made of those choice hardwoods? Well, they are being converted into home offices, bars, craft centers or even clothing armoires.

Go figure.

What does this mean for us as woodworkers? I’m not sure, but it will be interesting to see what changes happen over the next ten years as the way we use our homes changes.

Entropy

So, anyone up for a rousing discussion about Thermodynamics?

Hmmm, I figured not. After all, this is a woodworking blog, and the only times we really like to be concerned about temperature are if we leave wadded up oily rags in a corner, the comfort level of our shops or how toasty we can make the marshmallows we are roasting over a scrap-fed fire to make some S’Mores

Mmmmmarshmallows!

Instead, let’s take a look at another definition – A lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder. And, it’s one of those constants in a shop that needs to be battled on an almost daily basis, otherwise it has the power to overwhelm you and make your next shop visit that much more challenging.

Take my shop for example. It’s a standard two-car garage in a Florida house. However, because it is a multi-purpose room, it’s difficult – if nigh on impossible – to prevent the regular creep of entropy into it. Now, many times a week, Rhonda, the boys and I all head to the laundry equipment out in the shop to keep our clothes nice and clean. Of course, once done with the equipment, it’s not easy to put everything back where it started…

Laundry mess

The same thing goes for the cooler. Sure, it’s easy to go GET the cooler to stock full of cold beverages, but once its job is done, it could spend weeks here…

Hey, that's not cool

And, you know, we all use the bike, but after a long ride on some of the local trails, it’s just not easy to find someplace out of the way to put the bike…

The bike is now a clothesline

Gotta empty out the back of the Jeep Compass and not sure where to put the reusable shopping bags? Hey, how about behind the table saw?

Don't leave them alone in pairs

It’s not like I am going to whack on the rest of the family and not take swipes at myself. I mean, yeah, perhaps I should have removed the router bit I last used about three weeks ago – and maybe I should probably take the time to clean up the dust I made.

Router table

Oh, and yeah, it might be time to close the lid on my toolbox…

Close that lid!  close that lid!

And, how could I have let this area get all cluttered up with a strip of plywood from the bed project I am holding onto ‘just in case’ – and the miter saw station could use a big time clean up.

The miter mess

So, I guess it’s time for me to restate my old rule and break it out of mothballs. From now on, I do solemnly pledge/affirm that every time I go into the shop, I will put five things away. It may not seem like a lot, but before you know it, I bet the shop will be back into fighting shape.

At least I hope!

Climate change

So, does anyone remember this?

A little snowy?

Hard to believe it was only a few months ago when many states were piled under by feet of snow and people were begging for mercy.  Well, here in the Tampa Bay area, we’ve had the opposite issue to contend with. Our temperatures have been pretty well above average, making April feel more like July. Well, almost everyone has it right…

Wintry mix?

This was a big oopsie from one of the local TV stations. A wintry mix at 90 degrees? What, was this April 1?

OK, so now that we have established it is getting hot, I also had to address the 800 pound gorilla in the middle of the shop – my old air conditioner had reached the end of its life.

The old ACYup. R2D2 had gasped and wheezed through last summer, but the fan would no longer switch to high, and the unit was already woefully underpowered at 8,000 BTUs. But, I can’t complain, it served me well for nearly nine years, and it helped keep the shop tolerable where I built many summer projects which would have been impossible otherwise.

The new cooler

So, now we’re talking about a new system. I picked this baby up at the local home improvement center, and believe me, it’s a major improvement over what was here. First, the fan goes all the way to high. Kinda like a guitar amplifier that goes to 11…

Just like the previous model, this one displays the current room temperature, but the new one displays it in big numbers on the front, making it easy to see the current temp across the room. It’s the small things in life that make me excited.

Check out that temp

Oh, did I mention that this is a 12,000 BTU unit?  That’s going to help get the garage just a little cooler during the heat of the long Florida summers.

My biggest fan

Of course, my trusty old box fan will be helping with the cooling duties, circulating the cool air through the shop while I work. That will certainly help things, but I have a feeling that sometime in the not to distant future, I am going to have to install some type of garage door insulation kit to help keep some of the heat out of the shop and the cool inside.

The setup

With that, I hope that I can affect a positive climate change in my garage for the summer woodworking season.

Chop prep

As I stated yesterday, we celebrate Thanksgiving this week here in the the United States. And, after that, we move into the other holidays of the season that lead to feasting. And, you bet, I’m planning on spending some time in my kitchen this coming month.

Knife and fork job

Which means, it’s time to start getting some items in the kitchen back into shape. First up, this cutting board I had made a few years ago. It was a proof-of-concept build I had made before batching out a few boards for the holidays, and I haven’t had the heart to do away with it…

The board

But, as you can see, it’s all knife scarred, dried out and ready for a little bit of love. So, out to the shop it went. Since the boys have been talking about all of the delicious food they plan on eating, I had to put them to work in the shop doing the hard work.  Steven had the job doing the sanding on the cutting board and oiling it up.

Sanding Steven

With a 100-grit pad on the random orbit sander, the young fella proceeded to sand out all of the knife scars on the board. It wasn’t too tough, but he enjoyed using the sander, bringing the board from its rough state down to as smooth as the day it rolled out of the shop.

Wipe it in

The next step was to wipe on a heavy coat of mineral oil. Steven spent a good time wiping the oil into the board, ensuring it soaked evenly into the wood, making it look like a million bucks.

Dominic, well, he had another important job. With all of the chopping, slicing and mincing that has to happen with the holiday feasts, it was critical to sharpen the knives. Fortunately, it was an easy task with the Tormek sharpener.

Dom sharpening the knives

Dom first graded the stone to the rough setting before he put the knives into the jig to do the sharpening. This ensured that the stone was set for coarse sharpening, stripping the old metal shavings out of the surface of the water stone.  A quick clamp into the jig, and the boy was busy regrinding the bevel on the knives. It was a piece of cake for the young fella…

Grinding on the wheel

After coarse, then fine, grinding, Dom loaded up the strop wheel with some honing compound, then ran both sides of each edge over the strop wheel.

Honing the blade

You know when you have a really sweet edge on your knife when you can just cleanly slice it through a sheet of paper with just the slightest bit of pressure. You should have seen Dominic’s eyes when he did this little trick… he was amazed.

Slice!

Now, with everything tuned up, the boys have gotten everything into shape for the big holiday feasts to come.

The equipment

I guess this means that I’m on the hook now, doesn’t it?

Supplies!

OK, so you start working on a project. You either buy, find or draw up your plans. You source your wood. You think carefully about how you are going to make your cuts. You think about what tools you are going to need, and if they need to be sharpened.
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Yup, you are ready to build. Then, you get to that one point in your project where you reach for something small and seemingly insignificant – the glue bottle, a screw, a sheet of a particular grit of sandpaper – and BAM, it hits you like a 2 x 4 to the head – you are out!

Doesn’t that just drive you nuts?

Oh, it’s happened to me more times than I care to admit. And, every time it happens, I have to stop everything and shoot off to the store to grab what I need. For me, it’s pretty convenient, because I have one each of the competing home improvement centers less than a mile from my home and a few woodworking specialty stores about a 20-minute drive from the shop. But, for some of you guys and gals who live further away from the nearest retail outlet, I’m sure it has to be a momentum killer.

image

Even after all these years of woodworking, I still have yet to find a solution to this problem that works 100% of the time. For instance, to help keep me more organized, I have a special cubby where I store my sanders and the sandpaper that makes them effective. Years ago, I bought one of those accordion office paper organizers to hold the different grits of paper to keep them sorted out. The only problem is that I blindly take the sheets of sandpaper out of the organizer, then discover when I reach for the next one that – woah – I used the last sheet on the last project! Dagnabit…
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I keep my fasteners stacked in their original boxes on a shelf over my front bench. Now, over the years, I have had to buy my share of special fasteners for some specific tasks. (Roofing nails? Seriously?)  Rather than throw them out, I just keep them tucked away on the shelf, just in case I ever need one. As you can imagine, this clutter prevents me from seeing – say – how may 1 1/4 inch specialty wood screws I have on hand for when I build a cabinetry project. Needless to say, I have found myself dashing out to the home center, project glued and in clamps, racing to get those screws home in time to reinforce the joints.

Finishing supplies? Glue? Faggetaboutit. The song remains the same.

I’m not sure what the answer is. I might need to reorganize the storage areas in my shop, disposing of what I don’t need and getting some more clear see-through containers to keep track of what I do.  I could also go in on large lots of products that I use more frequently, but that would involve some foresight on my part.

Besides, it’s a lot more fun to buy wood for projects and new tools, isn’t it?