19 September 2014

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

This is the part where I nearly ate my words when I said this was the easiest thing I know how to make. In the steps I am about to describe here, I messed up not once, but twice, and came up with something salvageable on the third try, although I am still not happy with it. This post very nearly read: "Did I say chequerboard? I meant cutting board, and now you're finished!" I admit to my cowardice, that I nearly covered over my mistakes and pretended they did not happen, but it is better I tell you, so that you may avoid my mistakes, and also that you may know even those of us who have been doing this for decades occasionally make silly mistakes and therefore be less discouraged at your own. As Miss Frizzle used to say: "Make Mistakes! Get Messy!" And learn to do better.

And so, I continue with the steps involved. As before, I will give you the simple instructions, and then elaborate. If you are so inclined, ignore the elaborations.

Step Two: Smooth the board

Once the board is cut, and the cuts smoothed and brought to the measuring lines, it is time to smooth the board if necessary. For myself, I planed the board smooth. A well tuned plane with a sharp blade leaves the wood beautifully smooth and flat, but not everyone has their planes sharp and tuned or the skills to plane a board flat. Nor do most beginners have cabinet scrapers, so we are left with sandpaper. Here's a few notes on that.

Sandpaper is sold according to its grit which is shown by a number- 60, 120, 150, 220 are common ones for woodworkers- printed on the package or on the back of the paper itself. The number is the number of particles per square inch of sandpaper. So the sixty grit sandpaper, for instance, has half as many (and therefore larger and coarser) particles as 120. 60 will grind the wood aggressively and quickly, but leave the wood with lots of visible scratches. 120 will smooth the wood more slowly, and leave smaller and less visible marks. And so it goes up and down the various grits of sandpaper. So, which do you need? In short, most of them.

The lower grits of sandpaper will quickly remove material and help shape and smooth the wood quickly, but, as I said, leave marks. The higher grits are used mainly to remove the marks left by the lower grit numbers. However, when sanding bare wood, you should not go too high. There is some debate, but generally, most woodworkers will say don't sand bare wood beyond 150 or so. Why do we have higher grits then? Those are for smoothing out finishes between coats and polishing the final product. Same basic principle, though: start with the lower number (in this case, about 220) and work your way up.

For safety's sake take note: Sandpaper creates a ton of sawdust, so unless you have invested a couple of grand in a dust collection system for your shop (I didn't. My 'dust collection system' is a broom and dustpan), when sanding always wear a dust mask at least. This is doubly and triply true if you use a power sander.

When trying to sand something flat, it is best to use a sanding block. There are many types commercially available, and many more plans are available on line for free. Myself, I usually just wrap the sandpaper around a chunk of wood and use that. However, there are times when you have to just sand by hand. As always, there are right and wrong ways of doing this.

First, always go back and forth along the direction of the grain. Do not have your fingers pointing in the direction of the grain.

imagine this has a large red circle with a line through it.

Your fingers are the points applying pressure to the sandpaper on the wood. Going back and forth this way will wear four small channels into the wood. Instead, turn your hand so it is at right angles to the grain as it moves back and forth, like this:

Better.  I should have my hand a little flatter on the paper, though.

In this way you can spread the pressure more evenly.  Be very careful around the edges of the board in order to avoid rounding them over.

One last point on sanding: move around the board. Don't just wear away at one spot.

When the board is smooth to your satisfaction, wipde the dust off. Vacuum it, if necessary.

Step 3: Make seven marks, each an inch apart, along all four edges of the board.

This should be fairly self explanatory. You should get something that looks like this:

Not much else to add. Everything I said about measuring and marking in the previous post- sharp pencil, must be exact, will throw off rest of project, etc- is applicable here.

Step 4: Lay down one inch wide masking tape, skipping every other inch. First one way, and then the other.

That's not terribly clear. Here's a picture of how this step turns out to clear things up a bit.

The only thing to add here is the necessity for taking it slowly and carefully. Press down hard once the tape is in place. The tape must be laid down accurately, or the results will be poor.

Incidentally, this is where things began to go wrong for me this time. Having made about a dozen or so of these things with no problems, this one became a headache. Part of the problem stems from the fact that I live in Canada. We cannot get one inch wide masking tape here, we can only get 24mm wide tape- which is .56mm less than an inch. How much is .56mm, you may ask? Enough to mess you up.

So, if you live in Canada and you are trying to make the one inch grid checker board, you will have to lay down two pieces of tape, mostly on top of each other, in order to cover the full inch. What this means is that the tape will be that much thicker, so when the tape is laid again going across it will have a tendency to lift in the corners, making things messy in the next step. Americans should have an easier time. In retrospect, I would change the first instruction for Canadians. Instead of making an 8X8 square board, I would say make a 192mmX192mm square board, and then make the markings for the tape 24mm apart. If you can't beat 'em...

Step 5: Paint the board.

Actually, just the bare spaces between the tape strips. I was vague in the general description about paint. Use something that is relatively thick so it won't bleed under the tape(I used acrylics) and your preferred colour. Remember the tape has thickness and will tend to deflect your brush away from the edges and corners of each square. You can get around this by dabbing the paint on with a sponge or rag. Don't lay the paint on too thick, try and be even.

The process ends up looking like this:

After the paint has dried, remove the tape. You will notice that you don't have a chequerboard, you have this:

No problem.

Step 6: repeat steps 4-5, only laying the tape on the opposite grid pattern.

Like so:

Now when you pull the tape off, you'll get something like this:

Or better. I think I must have given myself the kiss of death when I announced "Here, let me show you how to make something easy!" I don't know why I had so much trouble this time, Everything I have described here I have dealt with before and had no real problems- and that even includes the first time. It all seemed to go wrong this time, repeatedly. The first time, and I don;t know why, the tape would not straighten out when pulled it tight, and many of the lines became curved. It made for a groovy chequerboard, man. I now wish I had taken a picture before I planed it off. The second time was just... not right.

What too take from this? We all make mistakes, perhaps. Beware the kiss of death? Mistakes are also not permanent. Just sand off and return to step 3. And keep trying.

That's it for now. Next time, finishing up, and making the pieces.

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