Grain direction matters: fixing a loom handle

Patch glued into the mortice of a hand-made handle
Twice before I've fixed this handle by drilling out a 3/4" hole, gluing in a dowel, and then housing a hex drive threaded insert in it. Both times the dowel stripped out, which should have been predicted after only a little thought.

The first time I was in a rush, getting the loom ready for Christmas, and I was fixing an error I made housing the threads (in the form of a T nut) all the way at the top of a handle that doesn't have a hole all the way through.  I had to drill out the metal as well as the wood, and didn't know the first thing about wood strength and grain direction.  I was making it up as I went along.

The second time, I might have known better if I thought for a moment, but I stuck with what I did before since I knew it could be done.  And again, after some use and a really good tightening, the threaded insert broke the short grain and stripped out the inside of the dowel.  This time, though, I was reading an excellent book on the basics of woodworking, called The Foundations of Better Woodworking, and had just finished reading the section on The Wood.

A good read filled with valuable information
Jeff Miller clearly described how to use a cross grain insert to strengthen a screw's hold, essentially the same problem I was trying to solve. Another dowel fix, with the grain running parallel to the insert, was exactly wrong and would end in the same way: failure of the wood as the threads tore sections of grain free of the dowel. I had to get grain going across the screw threads if the fix were to last.

So this time I chiseled off the entire base of the handle, and cut a mortice that removed the area where the dowel had been. I then dug out a piece of walnut to roughly match the handle material, found a section of quarter sawn grain, and patched it into the handle as shown above.

Then I drew a hexagon of the right size and pasted it to another quarter sawn section of the walnut using spray adhesive. This I took to the nifty little band saw my parents gave me for Christmas a few years back and cut the new section of handle.

Hexagon glued on as a pattern
Now I could glue this in place, drill out a housing for the hex drive threaded insert (which you can see in the upper right corner of the above picture), refinish the section of the repair, and thread in the insert. 

Using two clamps as a vice to allow clamping off the end of the bench
It was a lot more work than the dowel fix, but with long grain running across the threads, instead of being sliced into little sections by the threat, it stands a chance at surviving the beating it will get tightening the arm of the tensioner. And happily the fix looks almost like I never hacked the thing apart.

Finished handle repair


Logs to Lumber

The Log Pile Becomes a Lumber Pile
On Sunday I loaded the cherry log pile back into the car and drove to Wilmington, MA where Jim Cripanuk and his Wood Mizer portable saw mill reside. Loading the car was much more challenging by myself than it was the previous weekend when I had the help of three others to maneuver the logs into the car, but using the trick of leverage and a blue tarp I got them into the car by putting the larger logs on end with the heavy end up, leaning it against the bumper covered with the blue tarp, and lifting the bottom so the top end toppled into the car.  Then I just pulled the blue tarp until the logs slid all the way into the body of the car.

If you've never seen a Wood Mizer (I never had), the mill itself is a giant horizontal bandsaw built onto a trailer. In some ways it is like the shipbuilder's bandsaw we saw a few years ago at Mystic Seaport. I don't know if it can change angles like the saw at Mystic, but it has some great features.  The whole thing is on a track and moves back and forth while the log remains stationary.  The trailer itself has beams with stainless steal caps for low friction under the log, and a hydraulic clamping system.

The First Slice on the First Log
My logs were too small to work perfectly with these, so we had to brace all of the smaller logs with a board on one or both sides.

Detail of Bracing  

Jim is 72, and usually relies on a crane to position the logs, but on this day his truck battery was dead, and his battery charger decided to fail as well.  So the smaller logs I lugged around and positioned on the mill bed myself, and the larger ones he picked up with a strap and a forklift. Once it got over onto the mill bed, though, it was my job to get them muscled up to the center where the hydraulic clamp was (the truck with the crane was in the way, since he expected to use it for this part...) Who needs a gym membership?  I have logs to haul.
Another great feature of the Wood Mizer is the computer calculation.  Jim just puts in the size of the slice he wanted, and it cuts each piece to that thickness. Since I don't know what I'll do with this yet, I tried to come up with a mix that would make sense for a wide variety of applications. The smaller logs were cut to about 1 1/16", the larger two logs were cut to 1 1/2" and one slice from the largest log was cut to 3".

Lumber Stacked Better than Logs and was Easier to Load
The only mistake I'm aware of right now is the choice for which slice was left at 3".  A piece that size should be right for legs on a table or desk, but ideally should be rift-cut so that all four sides of the leg will have a similar grain pattern. This section is the center of the log, which will result in two faces with quarter-sawn grain on two faces and two faces with flat-sawn grain: typically that makes for a subtle distraction in the appearance of the legs. So maybe I'll end up doing something else with this piece.
In any case, I have now made lumber from logs and they are stickered up in the driveway. As much as possible I kept the lumber sorted by log, so I can work with well matched grain and color once it is ready to use. It will be at least a year before I use any of the planks, but a couple of the hunks may end up on the lathe before then.
Monday Afternoon: A Mini Lumber Yard

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Found Wood: Sealing Complete, Milling Is Next

A jar of Anchor Seal, for the next coat

So I had a pile of cherry logs that needed milling, quickly before the checking became bad enough to make them into firewood. With that plan in mind, yesterday morning started with a call to a local saw mill before I went to work.  No answer on the phone, and no call back from the message left Saturday, led me to try my luck with a 15 minute drive out to Smith's Mill in Hopkinton, MA.  Wow.

There were piles of trees taller than my house, some as big around as the cross-section of a Honda Civic. There were mountains of saw dust, one with footprints leading right to the top where some local kid might have planted a flag (though none was in evidence). And there were two guys (apparently the entire crew) making firewood with a crane, two conveyer belts and a contraption that fed full sized trees on a conveyer belt, cut the log sections to length with a giant saw blade, and automatically split the cross-section, and fed the finished firewood by conveyer up into a big dump truck.

But it was clear that while they could do little jobs like mine, they weren't going to be interested. I hung around watching the operation for about 10 minutes hoping they would stop and I could talk with them, but finally had to give up and head to work.

So I still had load of wood in the car, and called my friend Brian, who graduated from North Bennett Street and knows a bit more than I do about such things. He kindly researched portable saw mills (I'll be calling about that soon) and drove over with a can of Anchor Seal. We pulled the logs out of the back of the car, cut off some odd sections left by the chain saw, and sealed the ends.  This should slow (and hopefully stop) the checking that had started on all of the logs, which had been cut on last Tuesday.  Now I have time to research and arrange for milling at more leisure.

The logs, sealed and stacked in the driveway

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Cherry Wood Dead Fall

A friend wrote me last week saying a large cherry tree had come down in her yard, did I want some of it?  Of course!  So this afternoon I drove into Cambridge and picked up the largest chunks I could carry.  There was a massive bit that was the base, which would have yielded something, but it weighed too much to move easily, and I'm told it had cement in it somewhere.

Tomorrow I need to get these to a local mill to be sawn before the checking gets much worse...

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Four Tools for a Minimal Toolkit and a Tapered Spear Shaft

Four tools for my minimal tool kit: cutting gauge, inside/outside caliper, 1/2"chisel, and four-in-hand file/rasp
 Last week I was thinking about what might go into a minimal tool kit, and as it happened I just completed a hand project that worked with just four tools. As I finished the job, I mentally added these four tools to that that limited kit:
  • Four-in-hand file and rasp (a flexible shaping tool with options for faster and finer shaping)
  • 1/2" chisel (all-purpose cutting tool for wasting and shaping wood)
  • Inside/outside calipers (good for taking and transferring relative measures)
  • Cutting gauge (also good for taking and transferring relative measures)
I had a blunt-edged spear tip and an eight foot shaft, which were intended to go together.  The problem was, the shaft needed to have a taper applied to it for an accurate fit.  This would be relatively easy to do on a lathe, but my lathe bed won't accommodate more than four feet, and the shaft was seven feet in length.  I thought about trying to rig a longer bed, or build a pole lathe, but these sounded like projects I didn't have time or energy to complete. Instead I settled on basically whittling the shaft to the taper I needed.

To start, I measured the depth of the spearhead's taper. I actually used the slider on the inside/outside calipers as a depth meter and then set the outside cutter on the cutting gauge to that depth measure. I then used the inside calipers to measure the widest point of the spearhead's taper. Then began the tedious process of bringing the tip down to the largest diameter required:
  1. Using the cutting gauge, cut a notch around the circumference of the shaft
  2. Using the chisel, chisel it down to the notched level
  3. Repeat steps one and two until close to the required circumference
  4. Test with the outside measuring arms of the calipers
  5. Repeat steps one through four until the calipers indicate a match
Now that the shaft had  a rough measure of the widest part of the spearhead's socket, I needed to taper it to math the inner dimension (and remain roughly centered on the shaft). This was also done manually:
  1. Using the chisel, start tapering the end of the shaft, working systematically around the shaft to keep it centered
  2. Press the spearhead onto the shaft and turn it to burnish the wood where it touched
  3. Remove the spearhead and chisel off the burnished sections.
  4. Repeat steps 1 through 3 until approaching the final depth of the socket
  5. Using the four-in-hand, hone in on the final measure: first rasping around the shaft, then filing smooth.
  6. Test fit using the spearhead in the same method as step two
  7. Chisel off burnished sections
  8. Repeat steps 5 through 7 until the spearhead sits flush with the cut created with the cutting gauge
This was a painstaking process, but it produced a nice even taper:
Taper cut with just three hand tools

I drilled a hole in the spearhead, pressure fit the spearhead in place, and then pre-drilled a pilot hole (so as not to split the shaft when driving the brass brad).
Perfect fit with a brass brad to secure the spear head
The whole process worked better than expected, and if ever I do it again it will go much faster. The result is satisfying to look at, and stable:
The decorative (blunt edged) spearhead fully attached

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Limiting the Tool Kit

This post on how more tools are not always better has me thinking.  I've been contemplating the minimum required for cutting dovetails, but I'm now thinking about the minimum required for a shop.

First thoughts for tools to include:
  1. Pencil
  2. Medium-sized cross-cut handsaw
  3. 1/2" chisel
  4. Hand drill w/ bits
  5. Hammer 
I'm thinking it may be fun to try building a limited toolkit. How little can I get away with?  What are the alternatives to having certain tools?  That brings to mind this traveling tool kit, which is one possible minimum.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Check out this Photo Blog from Kansas City

I don't have much time to watch other woodworking blogs, but I have a watch on one Marc DeCou over at Lunberjocks.  He does beautiful and interesting work, and this week posted pictures he took during a trip to the Nelson Atkins Art Gallery in Kansas City.

If you scroll down past the architectural and art shots, there are some shots of great furniture and "stuff" that he found there.


Friday, April 27, 2012


Bookshelf completed about one year ago

The case is dovetailed together, moldings are glued and nailed.  The cutaway at the base was traced from the woodwork and then removed with a coping saw.  Shelves were dadoed with a stop dado, so the ones that fit correctly look like they are just floating between the sides. In all, I'm happy with this one. And it won't fall apart any time soon.

Now Hosting on Blogger

For two years I've been dragging my feet.  Until I converted the site to a Blogger hosted version I could not post to the blog. I had some vague sense of lost ownership (I lose what little traffic there was, and it all goes through Google sites now, which is what they wanted) but I finally gave up the idea of keeping it in my domain when I got notice they would shut off the lights on May 30, 2012. I can once again post to the blog. And who knows, maybe I will do that sometime soon.

I think I'll be able to set up an RSS feed for it too, which was not possible with the previous setup. So here's to a new blog location: woodworkingblog.robertkarl.org.  All the old posts will be available in both places, but at www.robertkarl.org/woodworkingblog the comment links probably won't work any more.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Build Your Own Bandsaw?

A friend sent me the link for an incredible photo essay on building a large bandsaw out of wood. This is a woodworking project that shows that sometimes time is as good as money. You'll find lots of other neat things at this man's sight, including a gear template generator for building wooden machines. Enjoy!


Photo courtesy of woodgears.ca

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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Photos from Mexican Woodworking Shop

In January we went to Mexico and had the good fortune to visit a town not touched much by tourism. Our host took us to a woodworking shop where his chairs and tables were made.  The shop was not running, but we did get a chance to see the work areas. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves:

Perhaps the most striking fact to me is that the table saws (there were two of them) were obviously shop made and neither had anything like a fence in evidence. Notice the chair in the last picture: this is one of the primary products and I find it hard to believe that they do all that ripping without a fence. Looking at the table saw tables I notice there is a lip on either end that could easily be used as a clamping surface: in production I'll bet they have a piece of wood clamped there as a rip fence.

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Wooden Doll - First Independent Woodworking Project

So today the seed I hoped to plant with a hand-made tool tote and a few woodworking tools  began to sprout. My youngest came to me and said "We should start my first woodworking project." So I asked what she wanted to make: she had in mind building a playhouse for her dolls, which seemed a bit big for a first project. I suggested something else, like a toy horse. And she immediately hit upon making a doll.

I asked if she could draw what she had in mind. She sketched out a simple doll shape:

This seemed the perfect time to talk about wood rings and how that grain can create weakness. I drew a picture of the wood grain and how having it cross the arms could cause it to break under stress:

The lower of the two doll sketches that I drew was to show how dowels for the arms and legs could prevent this weakness. She agreed that would be a good solution and we headed into the basement.

She marked out the size of the body on a piece of poplar and then sawed the body out of the board. She did very well tracking the saw using the two hand method. One side was a little uneven and she asked me to smooth the sides (which I did with a hand plane).

I had purchased a used Workmate thinking it would be the right size for her to work on. It turned out to be true, though the condition of the top made some of the clamping operations difficult. She sawed and drilled on the Workmate, and I taught her to use the vice top.


 We agreed it would be hard to drill into the corners at the bottom for the legs to go in. She proposed cutting flat spots there. She marked them off and I had her use the saw I use for dovetails to make these smaller cuts. Then she drilled the holes.

This was slow going, and I did take a few "turns" in each hole to make it deeper. But she started the holes and at least half of the drilling. She was pretty proud of the work she was doing.

She wanted to round the body and I let her work on that with a four-in-hand rasp / file followed by sandpaper. While she was doing that I made a simple jig with a deep v cut to hold the dowels and a cut with the dovetail saw to guider her cuts. With this jig she was able to mark the lengths and cut them herself. This is how she left it at the end of the day:

I'm pretty  pleased that she did all this without tiring of it. And she is happy to have made something in the wood shop. For the head, I'm going to look at a craft shop for a small wooden knob that will serve as the head. If I'm successful, we'll glue it all together later this week. She plans to paint it white and make clothes for it.

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