Sunday, December 27, 2015

Final Post

Over the years a number of the blogs I've followed have run their course and in some cases they just stop, nearly in mid-sentence, without warning or explanation. I didn't want to do that here.

 Just about two years ago I started two different blogs. My intention was to separate my travel posts, my journeys, from everything else going on around here. Back then I was thinking my travel blog, Travels of a Rambling Van, would be a logbook of miles covered and places seen, in the literal sense, and this blog, Random Rants, would cover everything else.

Well it turns out that maintaining two blogs, and deciding which entries belong where, has proven to be a pain. Besides, I have since come to realize that a binary view of things, either this or that, was far too ridged. That every day is a journey of some sort and trying to slot my experiences and activities into neat little boxes (blogs) has become problematic.

So, after two years, 108 posts, 12 comments (Pathetically, nearly half of those are me replying to comments.) and a whopping 2788 page hits (That's even worse than it sounds since a single post on replacing the front hub seals in my tractor accounts for 353 hits and 7 comments!) I'm packing it in and the Jewelry Box 2.0 post will be the last for this blog. (OK, technically this is the last post but you get the idea.) From now on all posts will be combined into the Travels blog because; and like all cliches, it's a cliche because it's true; all life is a journey.

So if you are masochistic enough to want to keep up with what I'm doing, from now on you can find me here.

Peace out!

Jewelry Box 2.0

I'd barely gotten the sawdust from the first jewelry box swept up when a request for a second one came in.

Two people in the house; give just one of them a fancy box; silly me; what did I expect?!!

No problem, the request was for a second box just like the first, and I'd already built one of those so I had all the drawings done and techniques worked out.

So it wasn't long before I had the basic parts milled up and ready for assembly.

With the trays assembled it was time to take my assortment of rings and start laying out and fitting the rails

Then I put a finish on all the bits and pieces.

Once that had cured well I spent a few days gluing, first the felt, then the rails, into place

And it was ready for shipping.

Though the two jewelry boxes are clearly related (see finished photos of the first one here) I wanted each to have it's own personality so I changed up some of the details, such as the color of the felt, the pattern of the inlay in the sides of the two upper trays and the lamination pattern in the rails of the bottom tray.

I also added a thin band of inlay to the inside of the lower tray's sides, just because.

Another request was that a chunk of raw Cedar accompany the new jewelry box because - well - somebody apparently likes the smell. . . I threw the carving in on my own so the block wouldn't look
so - well - yeah - so blockey.

After finishing that first jewelry box there were two aspects of it that I wasn't thrilled with.

One was the quality of the felt I used, so this time I used a different felt that I think is of better quality.

The second was the way I 'keyed' the upper trays to the lower trays. This time I milled two of the sides of each of the upper trays oversize so that there was enough extra material to cut notches into the ends for the key-ways. 

All in all, I'm happier with this jewelry box than I was with the first,

but if I had just . . . . Nope! not going to go there. . .

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Jewelry Box: Final Assembly

OK, with all the pieces milled, fitted and finished, it was time for final assembly.

Teak, being an oily wood, dictated the finish I used on all the parts. Some finishes will sit on top of the natural oils of Teak and end up coming off pretty easily later, but the solvents in lacquer do a good job of getting past the oils and creating a decent bond with the wood fibers. Before spraying the lacquer on the boxes themselves I carefully taped off the inside bottoms because I still needed to glue felt down so the jewelry isn't just rattling around on hard wood surfaces.

Accurately measuring inside dimensions with normal tools such as tape-measures, is pretty dang difficult and I certainly needed the measurements to be accurate so when I was done the felt didn't look like my third-grade collage project.

I suppose I could have added the dividers first then painstakingly cut and fit the felt into all the little, oddly shaped compartments afterwards, but experience has shown me that is a sure way to come up with something that looks like I made it during a kindergarten art session with those round-nosed scissors!

Anyway, the difficulty of taking inside measurements is not a new one and a long time ago I made some measuring sticks of various lengths from some scrap bits of Maple off-cuts, putting a tapered point on one end of each stick. By grabbing two of the appropriately sized sticks and a couple spring clamps I was able to obtain and transfer a very accurate dimension from the inside of the trays to the felt.

Once I had the felt cut and fitted, it was time to glue it down. For this I used a heavy coat of white-glue. White-glue because is dries clear and any screw-ups are harder to see. I spread glue over half the bottom then carefully laid the felt into it, patting it down gently but being very careful not to push too hard nor pull or stretch the fabric.

While the glue was still wet I pulled the other half of the felt back to the halfway point and repeated the process.

To complicate things at this stage, the felt I used came in swatches, none of which were long enough to completely cover the bottom of the larger tray with one piece so I had to use two separate pieces, making sure the joint between them would end up underneath on of the dividers I would add later.

When it came to adding the straight dividers in the large tray I relied heavily on spacers to get everything square and decent looking. I just grabbed whatever scraps where handy and used the table saw to make some spacers. The exact length wasn't as important as making sure they were all the identical length.

Now, without having to do any additional measuring I was ensured of getting everything right where it belongs.

In the photo above the long divider is already glued in place over the seam in the felt and I'm getting ready to glue down a couple of short dividers.

Same process as gluing the felt to the bottom of the trays. A heavy layer of white-glue on the bottom of each divider. (In this photo I haven't yet cleaned up the excess glue on the sides of the divider. If left that glue would wreck the whole 'professional' look of the finished project!)

The each divider was then set down in place making sure there was no smeary sliding to mess things up.

To make sure the glue-bond was strong I then added weights and left each glue-up to dry overnight.

Fitting the dividers into the two smaller trays was slightly different since there was no cutting of spacers to register against.

Some of the dividers, such as the circle segments in the top right and bottom left corners, I simply registered against the tray sides. Others, such as the larger ring in the center, were registered against already installed segments.

In all cases, each piece was carefully glued, positioned and weighted down overnight.

Sometimes that got a little complicated,

But soon it was all done except for the packing and shipping

One last thing was to cut and label samples of the four different woods used in the construction of this jewelry box. 

It's kind of hard to see, but I finished one half of each of these samples with the same laqure used on the rest of the project while leaving the other half natural. It showings up best here on the Teak and Red Heart Cedar samples.

Final thoughts:

It took me about 40 hours of build time. (I didn't count the time spent waiting on glue-ups or finishes to cure.)  I figure that if I were to build it a second time I could cut that down to about 30 hours. So if I pay myself + the shop $20 an hour this project whole-sales for about $600.

I'm never 100% satisfied with any of my projects. I can always find something I wish I had done differently and this one is no exception.

I've not really happy with the way I created the 'key-ways' on the bottom of the two small trays that keep them properly aligned when sitting on the larger tray. I could have done that better.

And I'm not pleased at all with my selection of felt. During construction I made a test 'compartment' with scraps of rails and felt and have been tossing a few odd screws around in it. (I taped it to the pad of my random orbital sander which I clamped upside down to the bench and left running to accelerate the 'wear'.) The lacquer is holding up just find but I'm not happy with the way the felt is wearing.

But not to worry, I already have an order for a second, similar, jewelry box so I have at least one more chance to get it right.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Jewelry Box: Upper Tray Dividers

OK, now that the straight dividers for the lower tray were milled up I needed dividers for the two upper trays. Since these trays are designed for smaller pieces, such as rings; finger and ear; I didn't want something with as much mass as the lower tray dividers, nor did I want boring old straight dividers.

Cue the lathe!

I decided to add yet another wood to the mix and went out to the log pile where I cut a couple blanks out of a Red Heart Cedar that had died last winter. I chucked the first into the lathe,

then turned it down to a cylinder. In the process I made sure to remove all the weak, and frankly boring, sapwood and get right down to the heart of the tree.

This is probably as close as I'll ever get to posting a selfie on line. Turning wood can be a risky business.  chips fly off every which way, dust fills the air, and sometimes things explode sending high velocity wooden missiles everywhere.

I wear a heavy denim apron from neck to knee, heavy leather gloves and face/dust protection. The apron has a knit collar that fits snugly to keep chips from slipping down behind my armor,

I used to have a fancy battery powered face shield. It was similar to a welding shield except the the viewing area was much larger, it sealed around my face and it pumped filtered air in to keep me alive. Over years of nearly daily use that shield slowly failed in one way or another until it was useless. Unfortunately the dang thing is very expensive to replace so now I use a standard face shield backed up by a dust mask. Not near as handy or comfortable, but way more affordable for us retired types.

Turning produces piles and piles of chips. After spending hours picking chips out of my boots and socks, (If you don't get them all out of the socks before they go in the wash with other people's clothes you are going to get an ear-full about stray chips showing up in all the oddest places! Been there done that!!) I picked up a set of snow gaiters. These keep the chips on the floor where they belong rather than down my boots where, in addition to causing laundry disasters, they stick me in my girlishly tender ankles.

Once I had my blank turned down then it was time to produce rings. The process is fairly simple. First I clean up the outside of the future ring,

then cut into the end of the blank to produce the inside of the ring. This takes a steady hand and must be done carefully otherwise the tool will catch in the spinning blank and send bits flying everywhere.

While it's still attached to the blank and easy to handle,  I sand the ring down.

Because I'm also rounding over what will become the top of the ring as I sand, I start with 60 grit to remove the bulk of the corners then work my way down through the grits to a silky smooth 400.

When the sanding is done I wrap the ring in tape from bottom to top when facing the blank so the tape won't unwrap when the blank is spinning, which it does from top to bottom. Without this step the ring is liable to shatter and end up all over the shop. Then I use a parting tool to separate the ring from the blank.

At this point it would be nice if the rings all came off in one piece, but I'm not too upset when they don't, as long as they don't shatter too much since I will be using more segments of rings than I will whole rings anway.

While still taped I cleaned up the bottom of each ring by swirling it around on a full sheet of 100 grit sandpaper laid flat on the bench,

then clean up the inside corner with some 320 grit paper. I don't get too anal about this since my goal is not flawless perfection but handcrafted with care.

Starting from the outside of the blank I turn a set of progressively smaller rings until I get down to about an inch or so. Smaller than that is just not very practical, besides, at that point it's just showing off. Then I clean up the face of the blank and start another series of rings from the outside in.

While I still had a little blank to work with, I turned a couple knobs. These would go right in the center of the small trays so each one can be lifted out with one hand. I made no effort to make these knobs identical. In fact I made sure they each had their own personality.

I used up one and a half blanks before I felt that I had more than enough rings and knobs to work with. Many of the rings I cut were just unusable, either because they shattered into pieces too small to use, most of which are still hiding somewhere in the shop. or I cut them too clunky looking in the first place.

Once I had a supply of rings I was happy with I started experimenting with placement, cutting and fitting and sanding and re-cutting until I had something I liked.

Once I was happy with the ring placement I took photos and made drawings then carefully numbered each piece on the bottom edge so I could put it back where it came from. (When it came time for actual assembly I did manage to alter this layout somewhat, but the gist of it survived.)

Then it was time for finishing. I cut tiny little pieces of double-sided tape and attached each ring, ring segment and knob to a scrap piece of board. I did this for the straight rails also. This would let me apply multiple coats of spray lacquer without blowing the tiny little things all over the shop.

I actually had to tape everything down twice. I find that the first coat of anything I spray ends up slightly rough so I had to lift each piece off and hand sand it back down to smooth with 400 grit then stick them all back on the board again. Fortunately I usually only get the rough finish on the first coat. The followup coats seem to lay down smooth without any problems.

For each pass I lay down a light, but complete coat, little more than evenly dusting the finish onto the pieces. This ensures a nice smooth, run-less surface in the end, but it does take more time to build up a proper finish this way, (I had 6 coats on these before I was happy.) and  I have to watch the clock pretty close since many of these finishes, if not re-coated within two hours, require waiting 72 hours for the next coat. If I miss my two hour window but get impatient and don't wait the 72 hours I risk getting a frosted or hazy finish, and nobody wants that!

Now I have all the major players lined up and next it will be time to start the assembly.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Jewelry Box: Lower Tray Dividers

Unless I had some way to separate all the various bits of - well - jewelry; some dividers of some sort; then the lower tray I had built would not really be anything more than an inverted shoebox top! Little more than a junk drawer. A fancy Teak junk drawer but still, just a junk drawer.

To come up with some dividers to install into the lower tray that were more interesting than - well - a few sticks, I wanted to create a glue-up of alternating Maple and Walnut.

I started by turning my boards, Walnut on the left, Maple on the right, into small strips at my table saw. Unlike when cutting the strips for the tray sides out of the Teak slabs, this time I didn't care if each strip was the same width or not. In fact I went out of my way to make sure the strip widths were more or less random.

With the boards turned into strips I then stacked those strips, alternating a Maple then a Walnut then a Maple and so on, taking care to select stick widths randomly.

If I would have just settled for dividers with perpendicular laminations, then at this point I could have just glued everything together and been done with it, but I wanted the laminations to run at an angle to create more interest.

An admirable thought perhaps, but it created a whole lot of extra steps!!

First I had to turn my long sticks into lots of shorter sticks. There actually was some science to selecting the length of these sticks. It was ultimately dictated by the final angle of laminations and the width of my surface planer but I won't go into the specifics now since it's much easier to see what that's all about later.

Then I divided those stacks of short sticks into even smaller stacks of about 8 sticks each. It was very important to ensure that each small stack consisted of an even number of sticks so that when the the stacks were joined back together again the alternating pattern of Walnut - Maple - Walnut would remain intact.

Glue was then applied to one side of 7 of the sticks. If glue was applied to the eighth stick it would try it's damndest to glue itself to the clamp and - well - having been-there-done-that before, believe me, it's a less than desirable outcome. . .

Some time back one of the wood magazines ran a test on gluing methods. One method, and clearly the simplest, was to just lay a bead of glue down and then let the pressure of clamping the joint spread the glue. A second was to evenly spread the glue across both gluing surfaces then clamp. And the third was to evenly spread glue across one of the surfaces and clamp.

The results clearly showed that the bead and clamp method was not as strong as the spread and clamp. (The test being that the wood fibers break before the glue joint fails.) The tests also showed that spreading glue on one surface then clamping consistently produced a joint at least as strong as spreading it across two surfaces before clamping. The exception would be very porous woods that tend to wick moisture deep into their fibers, such as the well cooked and tortured surfaces of most plywoods or very oily woods where glue needs to be massaged into the fibers of both surfaces before clamping, such as Teak. In those cases spreading glue on both surfaces first produced a better joint. Since I was working with glue-friendly hardwoods the one-surface method was just fine.

There's all kinds of glue applicators out there designed to make this job easier and I've owned several of them at one time or another, but I find the quickest, neatest and most accurate way to spread glue is with my finger. I lay a bead of glue down the surface then evenly spread it with my finger, making sure I get complete coverage.

Once the glue was spread I reassembled the sticks into a stack and then clamped them up. I applied three of my Bessey clamps to each stack which ensured even pressure across the full length of the relatively thin and flexible sticks.

As I added clamps I snugged each up gently then pushed everything tight against the relatively flat surface of my workbench to get as flat a glue-up as possible. (I wasn't going for perfect which is good because I don't care how much effort you put into it, there is no such thing as a perfect stack glue-up!) I also kept an eye on the ends of the sticks to make sure they lined up reasonably well, though that was not terribly critical since the ends would be cut off and discarded later in the process.

Once I had everything generally in place I carefully tightened the clamps bit by bit to their final pressure, which isn't he-man-gorilla tight since that tends to squeeze so much of the glue out you end up with a dry joint, which is a weak joint.

Depending on the type of joint, I shoot for snugging the clamps up firmly then give them another quarter to half turn. The trick here is to get a sufficiently tight fit between the surfaces for a strong glue line then hold everything in place until the glue has a chance to set. You're not trying to squeeze the sap out of the wood like it was a sponge!

I set each of my glued-up stacks aside overnight to make sure they were well cured before the next step.

Because of my limited number of Bessey clamps it took two days to glue up all eight of these small stacks.

At this point there was a lot of glue squeeze-out, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. If you don't see at least some squeeze-out then the joint is potentially dry and could be weak.

The surface of the stack is far from perfectly even, especially the surface that was on top during the clamping phase since my Walnut board was slightly thicker than the Maple to start with, but not to worry, that will be dealt with soon.

The next step is to knock some of that excess glue off with a scraper. I've tried a lot of different ways to do this and for me the one that seems to work best most of the time is using a hand scraper with a replaceable carbide edge.The replacement edges are not that expensive and glue, especially glue blobs, can be hard on sharp tools, so getting rid of what you can before subjecting your expensive blades to it is a good idea.

With the worst of the excess glue removed I moved over to the jointer. I have an 8 inch jointer which was one factor dictating the maximum width of my initial stacks.

A quick pass or two of what was the bottom side of each stack during clamping, the most even side, through the jointer evened everything up and left me with nice predicable surfaces for the next step.

I left the other side of the stacks rough because it will be a couple more steps before I'm ready to worry about them.

I decided to take the easy way out and go for laminations set at 45 degrees. This way I could turn the resulting dividers end for end all I wanted without screwing up the pattern.

I used my speed-square to get me in the ballpark. It was also important at this point to ensure that ultimately I would be dealing with a 12" to 13" wide final glue-up since I have a 13" planer that the whole thing would have to fit through at some point.

Then I marked the 'ends' to make sure I could get everything back where it needed to be, (If you look close you can see the pencil ticks near the left side of the two closest stacks.) as well as give me a guide when I was spreading the glue. It was very important that I keep the smooth side down against the bench at this stage and I also had to guard against flipping any of the stacks end for end or I would have ended up with Maple - Maple or Walnut - Walnut sticks adjacent to each other at the new glue line.

Just like when I glued the sticks into stacks, I then glued the small stacks into larger stacks, but only a maximum of three per glue-up to ensure I could keep control and get good alignment and clamping pressure.

At this point I didn't have to be quite as close with the clamp spacing since the glued up stacks are much stiffer, I mean way stiffer, than the original sticks, so clamping pressure would be distributed over a wider area. (It's the difference between pushing down in the middle of a pillow or the middle of a board. The floppy pillow won't transfer any of the pressure out to the ends but the stiffer board will.)

This turned my 8 initial stacks into 3, 2 of three stacks each and 1 of two stacks. (OK, if you stuck with me on that you're doing well. I had to proof that sentence several times to make sure I got it right!)

Again, I left the glue-ups to cure overnight.

You can also see that by now I was getting better at judging just how much glue these particular joints needed so there was much less squeeze-out. Just enough that I knew the joint wasn't dry.

But I wasn't done yet!  The next morning I took my two new three piece stacks and glued them up into an even larger, 6 piece stack, taking great care to maintain the offset that would result in the 45 degree laminations I wanted.

Because of curing time I had to wait until the next morning to glue on the final stack required to create the ultimate 8 piece stack.

The next step was to turn my jagged 8 piece stack into a nice regular-shaped board I could work with.

I started by striking a reference line down the full length of the final glue-up 45 degrees relative to the base of the glue-up (For my purposes the base is the edge closest to the bottom right of the photo above.)

Using that reference I stuck another line parallel to it that just touched the bottom of the notches along the left edge. This didn't touch each notch-base exactly due to variances during the glue-up, but it was close enough to give me a point to work towards.

Because the protruding points of the original stacks didn't all line up perfectly due to those variances I just mentioned, I began to slowly nibble them away at the table saw by setting the fence about a half inch from the blade and guiding the tips as evenly as I could along it and through the blade. Each pass got me closer to where I needed to be, a nice straight cut, and after a few passes I had a pretty straight cut going down the edge. By checking against my reference lines I could see I was still on track for the 45 degree cut I was after.

I was then confident enough to move the fence over and take a larger cut along my outer reference line. Once that was done I turned the stack end for end, adjusted the fence, and cut the peaks off the other side in one pass. One more flip to trim a final sliver off the initial edge and I had a glued up stack with two clean,  parallel edges to work with.

I was so excited at this point I screwed up and sliced a couple blanks that would ultimately be turned into dividers off the stack before I remembered I still needed to run it through the surface planer to true up the top and bottom. Fortunately I had made my glue-up much larger than actually needed so I didn't have to deal with the painful process of trying to even out those two initial blanks too. Small pieces are a pain to work with so I try to keep everything as large as possible as long as possible.

So anyway, all the calculating and measuring I did to ensure a stack as wide as possible but still able to fit through my planer was for naught, since now my stack was more than narrow enough to fit through the planer.

A couple of light passes on each side and my stack was finally nice a clean and straight all the way around.

Then it was back to the table saw to cut two more 7/16s blanks off the stack. I then cut those long blanks into shorter sections a little longer than the final pieces needed to be.

Two slices off the big stack was way more than needed for the jewelry box but the original Walnut and Maple boards were only about 3/4" thick and I felt that the rails needed to be slightly taller than that. To do that I was going to stack two pieces on top of each other then trim it down to the height I actually wanted. In order to keep the random width laminations lined up when I did this I needed to have the two pieces come from matching sections of the two adjacent blanks.

While I was handling the paired pieces I discovered that if I turned one of them 90 degrees and then glued them together in just the right alignment the resulting divider would be plenty high enough for what I wanted and it put a neat looking kink into the pattern, so I went with that instead of my original plan.

Since the strips were taller than wide this left a little excess overhang on one side that I trimmed off at the bandsaw, guiding the blade freehand down the edge of the vertical part of the assembly.

That narrow cutoff there on the right is what I ended up inlaying into the sides of the upper trays.

After trimming off the bottom to the height I wanted, I knocked the top corners of the dividers off with a hand plane.

Then a little sanding, by machine initially to rough out the shape then by hand down through the grits cleaned and polished the rails yet left each one slightly unique to avoid the whole mass-production look.

Here's an example of how my decision to turn one of the pieces 90 degrees before gluing resulted in two different looks. Standing up in the background of the photo above you can see the side that looks like it has a kink in it where each wood seems to bend around a 45 degree corner. Laying on their sides in the foreground are rails showing the other side where the pattern doesn't flow but appears interrupted. To my eye either way looks pretty interesting, more interesting that just a straight-line pattern.

So now all I needed to do was trim the rails to their final length, which I didn't do until just before installing them.