15 September 2014

On woodworking: The easiest thing I know how to make, part one.

The idea for this and the enxt few posts originated with Dale over at Dyspeptic Mutterings. He asked for any help from people who knew about woodworking with an eye to one day making oak and maple furniture. He also asked if anyone knew any sites with very basic and easy plans. I had been toying with the idea of doing a few posts on woodworking, or even starting up a blog on woodworking (I was going to entitle it "The wood slob". Anyone who has seen my shop would know why. Besides, all the really good names are already taken.) but Dale's request made me think maybe I should stop playing with the idea and just get on with it. So, here we go: A series of posts on the subject of the art of working with wood while concentrating on making the simplest project I do: A chequerboard.

It is, as I said, the easiest thing I know how to make, however, behind the ease lies some fairly complex yet basic skills. So I will give you the basic instructions. If you feel competent to go off and get to work, ignore the bulk of what I write with my blessing and encouragement and ignore the long notes. Also, I would have liked to have done a video, but that is currently beyond my capacity. I have taken photos of the process, but, as I have said very often in the past, I suck at photography. Having said all that, let's begin in earnest.

For this project you will need:

pencil or marking knife
measuring tape or ruler
plane (optional)
masking tape
clear finish or oil or wax
light coloured piece of wood (I used pine) large enough to yield an 8X8 piece
A cheap mitre box would be handy as well.

A quick note on tools: it is important to get some quality, but even more important is to learn how to care for your tools by sharpening and tuning them up. There are lots of sites and videos out there that deal with bringing old saws back to life and how to tune up planes. Seek a few of them out. Learning about your tools will also teach you about the craft. But, and this may be disheartening, you also need to know that not only do you need tools to do your work, but also tools to care for those tools, and, in some cases, tools to care for the tools that care for your tools. But take some heart, eventually you have enough to get the job done. I haven't bought any new tools in years.
For step one you will need the wood, the saw, the square and the pencil.

A note about following steps: for the best results, treat every step like it is the only one. When you start looking forward, and trying to run through the each step to get to the next one, and then to get to the finished product- that's where mistakes really start to happen.

Step One:

Measure, mark and then cut the wood into an 8"X8" square.

That's if you already know what you are doing, along with the whole "measure twice and cut once" thing. Also, I am assuming you can get a piece of wood sufficiently large for such a piece. If you can't, you will have to add an additional set of steps involving gluing, clamping and then planing or sanding flat some boards to make a piece of sufficient size. Here's how I carried out this step, with some pictures.

First, I got some wood from my pile. As I said before, I pull pretty much all of my wood out of the garbage- that would be the subject of another post- so my wood generally needs a little work before I can make use of it.

I started by planing the board flat, which also got rid out of the old finish.  I only planed the part above the dado, because I only needed a small piece, and didn't feel like flattening the entire board at this time.  Flattening a board is an important and fairly basic skill, which I won't cover at this time.  For now, find yourself a flat board.

Checking the corners of the board for square. Never assume your corners are square. Always, always check. In this case, the corner was off slightly. I had to square it up before I could proceed with measuring and marking. Had I not checked and fixed it, every subsequent measurement would be off.

Marking the length. Or the width. Hard to say. Whenever possible, I like to lay my ruler on its edge, so the markings actually touch the wood. For the pencil- if you use one rather than a knife- always keep it sharp, and make your marks small. Remember a pencil line has thickness, and lines from a dull pencil have greater thickness. That thickness can distort your measurements and reduce your accuracy considerably. Make a pencil sharpener one of your first and most fundamental pieces of equipment in your shop. Mine is right by the door.

By the way, the ruler is home made. I modelled it after some carpenter's rulers recovered from the Mary Rose. I thought they were cool.

Drawing a line with the square. Most people get it backwards. Do not bring the square up to the mark, the use the pencil to draw the line. Instead, put the pencil on the mark...

...and then bring the square up to meet the pencil. Now you can draw the line. It improves your accuracy considerably.

Now just fill in the rest of your lines. I don't show it here, but what marking your lines, only use the square going across the grain. If you are making multiple markings, always try and use the square on the same edge to ensure consistency. I don't recommend using a suare on end grain. Rather, once I had the line going across the board, I measured eight inches from the edge along that line. I then went to the top of the board, which I had squared up earlier, and measure eight inches along the edge. I then used a straightedge to connect the two markings. The board is now ready for cutting.

I didn't take any pictures of the actually cutting, as I don't know what kind of saw or saws you have. I'll say a word on sawing now, but with a warning: I could write a dozen blog posts on sawing and not scratch the surface. Do not think of what I am about to say as exhaustive. Also, what I have to say comes from my experience and opinion. Take it for what it's worth.

In my experience, it is wrong to think of saws as precision tools. They can be in the right hands, but, for the most part, they are demolition tools. They are designed to make a big piece of wood into a smaller piece of wood, fast. There is a reason why my old shop teacher always told me he should be able to see my line after I made a cut. You get close to the cut with the saw, but the real accuracy comes from your planes and your files, as you bring the edge of the wood to the line.

An average beginner may have a few saws if they're lucky, or at least one of a few. Among the most common are table, circular, and hand. If you have a table saw, read and understand all the instructions, especially those pertaining to your safety. This one is actually the most straightforward to use. Set the fence to eight inches for the rip, and then make a mark for the cross cut and use the miter gauge to make the second cut. Done very quickly with good accuracy, as long as it is properly set and tuned. The tool itself removes all the guesswork. Of these three types of saws, it is the closest to being a precision tool- but only when it is properly tuned. They almost never are. One problem is the blade will have a very slight wobble to it, leaving the sawn edge rough with visible saw marks. You have to leave a little extra wood on so you can plane off the saw marks and bring the wood to the right size.

The circular saw is a medium between the table and the handsaw. It gives the speed of the table saw, but not the built in accuracy. I have never been great a cutting a freehand straight line with the circular saw, and I only really make it work when I set up a fence. In this case, a fence is usually a straight board clamped onto the wood I want to cut for the purpose of guiding the saw. The outer edge of the base plate of the saw rides against he fence. For this reason, the fence is not put on the cutting line, but is offset from it. How much it is offset is dependent on how far the edge of the base plate is from the blade, (mine is an inch and a quarter or and inch nd three eighths) and on what side of the cutting line I place the fence. Let me explain.

If you have a circular saw, unplug it, turn it upside down and pull back the guard. Measure the thickness of the blade. Usually, it will be an eighth of an inch thick. That means that, with every cut, a piece of wood as long as the cut, as deep as the thickness of the wood and an eighth of an inch wide is obliterated. This channel of obliterated wood (called the "kerf" if you want the technical term) is not to be overlooked. In practical terms, it means that when you place the fence, always make sure that the kerf will be on the waste side of the cut, not on the good side. For my saw, if I am setting up the fence on the good side of the line, the fence is to be an inch and a quarter from the line. If the fence is on the waste side, an inch and three eighths. As I said about the table saw, leave a little room for planing.

Handsaws come in many, many forms, but the two most common in our part of the world are rip and crosscut. Rip is for cutting along the grain, crosscut for across the grain. These two types of saws have radically different teeth to make them better able to perform their function. However, there is a reason why I didn't specify what kind of saw you need for this project when I listed the tools: Rip can cut across, and crosscuts can rip. They're just better at their designed function. I don't recommend using one for the other's purpose, but it can be done if you are a one saw kind of guy at the moment. You can make the cuts with one saw, but go and get another one as soon as possible. As I said earlier, getting an old one and tuning it up is an excellent way to get to know your tools.

There are quite a few ways to cut this piece out. My preferred method would have been to strike the cross cut line with a knife, deepen the line on the waste side a little with a chisel, set the piece on my bench hook, and then use a back saw to ride that groove to the bottom. But you may not have a bench, let alone a bench hook, or a back saw. So I used my rip and cross cuts. You don't need a bench for those. If you have an old chair and knees, you can make the cuts.

There are three things I want to point out about cutting with the hand saws. The first is the angle the blade makes with the wood. Think of two parallel lines an inch apart. These represent the thickness of the wood. Now think of another line representing one possible saw angle intersecting the first two lines at a right angle. Now think of a fourth line representing another saw angle intersecting the two parallel lines at a forty five degree angle. The first saw blade, held at a right angle to the wood, will be cutting away at an inch of wood with every stroke, whereas the other blade with be cutting away an inch and a half. As a result, the first angle will cut faster and the second one will be slower. However, the first angle will tend to wander off the line more, and the second, because the lower angle allows you to line up the saw with the cutting line, will be more straighter and more accurate. So which angle is best? Well, each angle has its usage. If you have time to practice, practice at every angle you can, and get a feel for the tool in wood. For now, I would recommend the lower angle.

Second, when crosscutting: as you near the end of the cut, the weight of the piece of wood being cut off will tend to break and fall off before you can finish. Whether the break extends out from the good piece or into the good piece is anybody's guess. So either support the piece of wood yourself (usually by doing an imitation of a pretzel), or have someone hold the wood up while you cut it (kids are good for this) or, assuming you have to make both a rip and a cross cut as I did, make the cross cut first and arrange it so that, if the wood should randomly break free, the break will occur in the part of the wood that will be removed by the rip cut.

Thirdly, crosscuts often cause this:

It's called tearout, and it can wreck a good piece of wood. It happens with both hand and power tools. It happens when the saw is tearing through unsupported wood fibres. It's even worse when you use plywood. It's also pretty bad when you use a rip saw o cross cut. It can be avoided in a few ways: One, use a sacrificial piece. Clamp another piece to your good piece of wood under the cut line before you make the cut. The sacrificial piece will support your piece and get tear out instead. Another option is to put masking tape along the underside of the piece directly under the cutting line. It can reduce tearout to a fraction.

I then planed the board a bit to clean it up and make it nice and smooth before the next step. I'll discuss this a little more and get to the mext step in the next post.

10 September 2014

As an amateur historian nerd who can do with a distraction or two these days...

...this really gets me going:  They've found one of the ships of the Franklin Expedition!


Now go find the other, and, if you can, the grave of Franklin himself. 

9 September 2014

On a lighter note

On the weekend Puff and I attended Mass At Christ the King Cathedral in Hamilton.  While there, Puff noticed something interesting about this painting of the Adoration of the Magi over a side altar.

The magi are painted as kins, as was common, but notice the foremost king, dressed in red and ermine, with a chain of office, and a crown in a medieval style?  Unless we are much mistaken, he is dressed and crowned as a king of England.  The painter (perhaps on the instruction of the bishop) painted England kneeling before Mary and Jesus.  Keep in mind, the bishops and priests and congregation of the Cathedral at the time this was painted were mostly Irish.

Make of it what you will. Personally, I had a good chuckle.

Prayer request

For my son. The short version: He's being assessed to see if he is in the autism spectrum. Puff doesn't think he is, I think it's a possibility. Pray that Puff is right, or failing that, that he is correctly diagnosed and we have the means to give him the help he needs. The one thing I don't want is my son to become a label and a disability. He's really a good kid. He's also an odd one, but mostly he's good.

4 September 2014

Prospero's speech

Just a little music for today. I am not much of a fan of Loreena McKennitt, but here she touched upon one of my old obsessions (though not so much now) of Shakespeare, and did so in a haunting way. Prospero's spech at the closing of The Tempest is a fairly ordinary little closing speech for a comedy of the period. The actor breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audience directly, asking for their applause so he may stop acting a role and return home. McKennitt, however, puts the speech to a chant like tone, and turns it into a plea for mercy and a cry of despair.

1 September 2014

Phenomena of the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows

The church itself calls it a phenomena. Some think it's miraculous, however I hesitate to use that term, so I prefer to think of it as a masterpiece of serendipity. It was discovered in 2009 at the church of St Mary, Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows in Kitchener-Waterloo, when they held an evening Mass for their titular feast day. Around 7:15PM on the feast of Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows, the light from the setting sun passed through a red stained glass window and cast its light on the wall in the sanctuary, As the Mass progressed the light moved slowly across the wall to the high altar until it came to rest on the pierced heart of the statue of Mary in the centre of the altar, before it dissipated entirely. It has occurred every year since then, (and most likely before then as well, though no one was there to see it) except 2013, when the weather was not permitting. Incidentally, 2013 was the year I went with my mother.

The feast day is coming a week next Monday, and the church website lists the day's events commemorating the feast, with exposition, benediction, confession, chaplets and rosaries with a Mass beginning around the time the phenomena begins. The website also explains that visiting the chuch on its feast day gives the visitor a plenary indulgence and explains the conditions- something not often seen or heard of today. I unfortunately cannot go due to work, otherwise I would take mother again, as we both wanted to see the phenomena. Last year, when it was on a Sunday, the church was packed full. The choir was excellent, and the service lovely, although, as I said, no phenomena that year. (Thank the weatherman. He said the weather would be cloudy with sunny periods. It was rainy, with rainier periods.)But the full church seemed to me to be a miracle in its own right. How it will be this year, I cannot say, but the church looks as though they are expecting a crowd.

So, if you are in the area or you can swing the time, go and see. But go early, just in case.

29 August 2014

As part of the university's cost cutting measures....

A department of thirty people was yesterday reduced to seven. This was done just before the classes start up again.

Pray for those who suddenly los their jobs yesterday, and for those left behind, who must now do the work of the full thirty.

25 August 2014

I'm back, with some here and there

It flipped over and I am back. I'm still planning on keeping it light around here for the time being.

First and foremost, a hearty welcome to Dale Price, who has become my newest 'follower'. (That word just doesn't sound right. There must be an alternative.) I've followed Mr. Price for years and think of him as one of the best bloggers out there, so I am happy and humbled to see his icon on my list. In honour of the occasion, I am planning on doing a post or two on some woodworking (He expressed an interest in learning the craft over on his blog) which I hope to have up in a week or two.


Speaking of woodworking, Woodworking for Mere Mortals published one of the coolest sets of plans ever: Build your own Tardis.

I wonder which Doctor I would pretend to be? Probably Tom Baker. He's the first one I think of whenever anyone mentions Doctor Who.


Back to bloggers I admire: I never quite know what to make of John C. Wright when he does one of his posts about the wonders of the free market and the evils of eveything else. I admit his understanding of economics is stronger than mine, but his is his and mine is mine. My own opinion of the free market is pretty much the same as Winston Churchill's opinion of democracy: the worst system that could possibly be imagined, with the exception of every other system. Like any other system, it has its victims. There is a reason why so many of my left wing history teachers began their history of unions with coal mines. And that's only one way the system went bad. Too many times I have seen men acquire skills to support their families only to be made redundant by a shift in the impersonal market forces. I may be one of them. Supporters of the market will say something useless like get some more skills or find a new job. Yeah. Try it yourself. Let me know how it works out for you. I've already done it myself. It was always a move down, never up.

The best thing I can say about free markets and capitalism is that it is a real system that came from the way people actually interacted and did business with one another, and not some made up system created by someone who thought he knew better than everyone. I would say change it, but every suggestion I have heard turned out to be a cure worse than the disease. So I respect capitalism, but I do not love it, and I certainly do not trust it.


I've often quoted Zane Grey's statement that there's nothing dumber than an educated man, once you get him out of whatever field he's educated in. I agreed, but I have been rethinking, and with all due respect to Mr Grey's wisdom, it is now my opinion that there is nothing dumber than an educated person within the field they are educated, because they see nothing outside it. It seems like education exists these days mainly for the purpose of sucking the fun out of everything.

Case in point: this review of Guardians of the Galaxy, a movie which features a green woman, a sentient tree, and a talking raccoon.

The female reviewer begins by saying how much she enjoyed the movie,so much so that she spends her entire first paragraph praising it, only to state that she wants to register some complaints. It's a fairly simple rhetorical ploy. Basically, she's stating her credentials, stating that she enjoyed it, but despite that she has some issues, therefore giving the impression that the issues must be serious and worth listening to. It works the opposite way, too. I saw the movie, thought it was a pleasant time killer with a nifty soundtrack, but I didn't get too much investment in the movie on account of, y'know, the whole green woman, sentient tree, talking raccoon thing. So when I take the time to say that this review is idiotic, it must mean that the review really is idiotic if it can move someone who has no emotional investment in the movie to come to its defense. See how it works?

By the way, the whole green woman, sentient tree and taling raccoon thing sounds like an internet meme ending with the words: your argument is invalid.

I couldn't get worked up enought o do a whole fisk, so just skimming: she doesn't like the word "bitch"- neither do I- didn't like Gamora's costume- neither hot nor cold, but you do realize this was a comic book movie? A genre with a target audience of fiften year old boys? Where generally the women look like Dolly Parton in Zero gravity? Wearing clothes that appear to have been spray painted on? In short, given that context, it was tame. She also hopes that the post credits teaser is not a lead in to a Howard the Duck movie. I'm completely with her on that one. She descries the lack of diversity- heard that one so often I stopped caring. The audience I saw it with was fairly diverse, and didn't seem to mind much. I expect they, like me, just want to see a good movie. As long as it's good, I don't care whether or not the lead is white, black, or green. Which reminds me: how is a movie featuring a green woman, (with a blue woman as well) a sentient tree and a talking raccoon not diverse? It's so diverse it has stuff that doesn't even exist.

She spends some time on the "whore" joke. Didn't laugh at it personally, but she reacts like it is a trigger word or whatever the current nonsense phrase is. She doesn't like the attitude or the message. But the line is a joke. Any message attributed to it in the review comes from the reviewer, not the movie. At least, that is what they taught me during the wasted years of my overlong idjumacation. Meaning resides in the reader/interpreter, not the writer/sender. The writer here uses that to make her own meaning, and, under current style scholarship, it is virutally impossible to logically refute her. However, it doesn't have to be refuted. Her reading is her reading, and there are always alternatives. And I can come up with my own with just five seconds of thought. In this case, the word "whore" is used by Drax, and the movie spares no effort to point out that Drax is a muscle bound idiot. So, if this joke is indicative of the culture, then the cutlure would be that of muscle bound idiots, would it not? And rather than affirming that this word is commonplace, the movie could be seen as saying that only idiots think this way, and the author's insistence on reading it her way tells us more about her than it does about the movie. So there.

At any rate, she got worked up over a movie featuring a green woman, a sentient tree, and a talking raccoon. Her argument is irrelevent.


So there you go. More to come when the spirit moves.