Wednesday, November 3, 2010


It's been awhile.

Don't mind me, I'm just posting some pictures for an architect who recently contacted me regarding a potential commission. We'll return to our regularly scheduled program soon...

Friday, February 19, 2010


When I was out at the IP I met a guy named Cory Roberts. I had actually just missed him in Almonte the previous year, where he took a woodworking course immediately before me at the Rosewood Studio. A designer from Ontario, Cory was taking a week long course at the IP school while I was a resident there. Cory works for some big branding firm that designs things like packaging for Liptons and Frito Lays and what not. He's a big wig with a corner office and in his executive bathroom he urinates into a waterfall that cascades down a wall of pure cubic zirconia. He's very rich too, I think he actually owns the color blue.

Anyways, he brought with him a scrapbook with literally hundreds of furniture designs. Some were pencil sketches, some were marker renderings. We all drooled over his ability to illustrate his ideas, which seemed endless. In a daring armed robbery I stole the drawing below. I know he won't mind me posting it here because he's a whore for attention, and deathly afraid of me.

One of the classes I have in my Architecture program is Presentation, where we learn various rendering techniques. Next year the focus is almost entirely digital but in the first year it's all pencil crayons and markers. Coloring class! It's kinda fun. This past week has been reading week and I had the opportunity to take an illustration workshop from the great Mike Lin, a highly sought after illustrator and author. He holds regular workshops at his studio in San Francisco but a few times a year he travels to various schools to hold two day classes. It was a good experience and made me want to pony up the two grand to take his week long workshop in Cali.

One of the first things he does is give everyone a line drawing of a building and gives you five minutes to render it. First in pencil crayon then in marker. Here's mine:

Pretty kindergarten-esque hey? There were actually some in the class that were much worse! There was a bit of panic involved in these 'pre-test' as Mike doesn't tell you he's going to do it, he just says 'you have 5 minutes to render this, GO!'. And then when everyone is mortified at what pathetic artists they are, Mike wanders around and shows the entire class the worst, pointing out how shitty everyone's drawings are. And then the afternoon of the second day you do a 'post-test' where you apply the techniques he taught. I wonder if anyone else is posting their before pictures on their blogs? Or if they're burning them?


I'm looking forward to practicing and applying these techniques to architectural, interior, and furniture design. One day maybe I'll get to piss on fake diamonds too!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Phases. Converted.

When I bought my milling machine a couple years ago I was suddenly faced with the challenge of how to create three phase power. I ended up buying a 3hp VFD (Variable Frequency Drive) and hard-wiring it directly to my mill, which worked ok. For some reason, even though the mill was 2hp and the VFD 3hp, the VFD would trip when I started the motor. I had to turn the speed control right down, turn on the motor, and once it was running I could ramp it up to full speed. Other than that minor inconvenience, it was fine. When I bought my D&W bandsaw I took the VFD off the mill and tried to use it, with marginal success. My bandsaw has the original cast iron motor, refurbished, and I've read from several sources that old electric motors don't like the power created by a VFD, and may actually burn out prematurely as a result. Obviously I didn't want that.

Last summer I found an ebay store that sold phase converters either as a complete package or as a kit. I decided to buy a kit and assemble it myself. Essentially a kit contains all the parts necessary to assemble a static phase converter. All you need is a box to assemble it in. The other option is to build a rotary converter, but you need to find a 3 phase motor to use as a slave. Having heard all sorts of bad things about static converters, I opted to try and find a used motor and build a rotary converter. Unfortunately my search for a cheap, or preferably free, motor had been fruitless for months until finally I found a motor from an unlikely source. I had been calling around to scrap yards and surplus dealers to no avail, and then one day last week I decided to call an electrical contractor in town to see if he knew where I might find a cheap used motor. Dart Electric is the company that wired my house, and I learned very quickly that they are meticulous when it comes to billing. Every inch of wire in my house, every marrette and screw was charged back to me at full retail prices. Apprentices were billed out at full journeyman rates, and even when they came back to fix their own screwup they tried to bill me their hours.

Anyhow, I called and chatted with them for a couple minutes and was told to stop by and take a look through their storage sheds. A quick search turned up a 10hp, 3ph motor in what appeared to be good condition. 'It's yours, you're doing me a favor by getting rid of it' I was told. Woohoo!

When I picked the motor up I made a quick stop at the shop where I used to work to chop off the shaft. I didn't want to run the risk of something getting wound up in it, and cutting it off was easier than making a guard.

Looks complicated, but it's pretty simple. The silver capacitors are run caps, and the black capacitors are start caps. The two things in the top are contacts, to switch from start to run caps as needed. Unfortunately the diagram I got with the kit was horrible, but the seller was quick (almost instant in fact) to answer my numerous questions throughout the process.

This is my fancy Sawstop test bench. I was a bit sheepish the first time I fired it up, there's alot of capacitors in that box. I once saw a demonstration of the stored electrical potential in the tiny little capacitors from a disposable camera flash. It was nuts, it melted a screwdriver!

All done, it took about 6 hours total. Initially I thought that I would install the converter near the main panel and run a plug in somewhere near the bandsaw, but I decided it would be better to keep it close so I can turn it on and off as needed. My bandsaw is the only machine that needs 3 phase right now so I hardwired it directly to the converter. I've already noticed how much quieter the D&W runs off the converter compared to the VFD, and I'm happy to see that I can run the converter, bandsaw, and jointer all at once without tripping a breaker.

I'm one step closer to running out of excuses for my lack of woodworking productivity!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Dust. Collected.

While I'm really itching to start a project, (I've got several pending) I have a tick list of workspace things I need to get finished before I get rolling. My bench was an important step, it's nice to finally have a permanent place for all my hand tools - I've never had that before. I built a tool board for chisels & planes, and was starting to build a row of little cubbies for misc. bench crap when I was forced to change directions. I was rough milling some mahogany for said cubbies when my allergies got the better of me. I've always had mild allergies but over the last few years they've gotten considerably worse. Dust, smoke, stuff like that can stuff me up for days. It sucks.

Anyhow, I bought this 2hp cyclone dust collector almost a year and a half ago but never set it up. Right now my machines are set up in my little garage but initially I thought it might be temporary, I hoped to convert one of the numerous outbuildings into a larger, more functional space for a shop. I figured I would just hang on before setting up the dust collector. I didn't want to run all the ducts and whatnot just to pack up and move. It so happens though that my garage has turned into an adequate space for now, and I doubt if I'll move out of it anytime soon. A couple weeks back I finally bit the bullet and started setting up the cyclone.

I hummed and hawed over a location for the dust collector, as it has quite a large footprint. Finally I decided to set it up outside. It's less than ideal, but it's quieter out there and doesn't take up any shop space. And besides, 'less than ideal' is beginning to be my motto!

Obviously I'll have to build an enclosure around the dust collector before it starts raining in the spring. For now I throw a tarp over it when not in use. Duct shopping proved to be a frustrating experience. Initially I looked at normal HVAC ducts and it looked like the duct work was going to cost more than the dust collector! Eventually I found a company in Edmonton that manufactures their own ductwork and fittings, and it ended up being considerably cheaper. I gave up trying to find actual 'dust collection ducts', that shit seems to be a myth! Anyhow, I ran all 26 ga 6" spiral ($1.99/ft) and bought most of the fittings at Rona. I bought blast gates at Busy Bee.

The setup is pretty simple, the main is teed right off the machine. One line runs to the tablesaw and one goes across the roof, tees again, and down to a manifold that branches off to the bandsaw, jointer, planer, and a sweep. I capped the other side of the tee but hope to run it to my chopsaw and router table... eventually. I was dissapointed to see that my 'industrial' tablesaw only has a 4" collection fitting that only goes up to the shroud that covers the arbor, there's no actual dust collection for the cabinet itself. I guess we'll see how it goes.

I built a shroud for the underside of the bandsaw table from a side take-off, but it needs some tweaking. I want to hold it in place with rare earth magnets, so it can just be popped off for blade changes and table tilting, but the magnets I used weren't strong enough to support the weight of the hose. I'll get some bigger ones to try, but if they don't work I might have to think of something else. I guess I could just use some tie-wire, that's pretty farmer-ish though!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Pre-Fab Base

While searching through a bunch of wood for some material to make a jaw for my front vise, I came across this piece of 12/4 maple. Look whose name was on the bottom.

If I remember correctly I stole this from Ian in a daring armed robbery. He deserves to be stolen from though, because he's so rich, handsome, and successful. I'm a modern day Robin Hood.

The best part of my previous bench was the base, which I'm re-using. I built it from a huge beam of recycled fir that I believe was salvaged from a bridge out by the Bugaboos. If Rane is still lurking on these blogs he might know more. I worked with him at the timber-framing shop, and he worked there long before me. That's where I got the beam, I bought it from my boss. Rane helped me pull nails out of it; spikes actually.



You can tell I was working in a timber-framing shop at the time, the joinery is all post and beam style. I really like the joint that attaches the stretchers to the legs. I don't know what it's called but it's the best knock down wedged tenon I've ever came across. The wedge won't eventually split the tenon like other types, and the weight of the tenoned piece alone is enough to hold the joint together. I drew a quick sketch below.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Metal Wagon

I really like the wagon vise hardware that Benchcrafted makes, and at $350 it might be worth it, but I decided I would attempt to build my own. I mean, I gotta do something with that milling machine!

I bought a 1-1/4" screw and nut from the local fastener place (uncreatively named 'Nut & Bolt') and a handle from Busy Bee Tools in Edmonton. One of the things that struck me immediately about benchcrafted's wagon vise is the lack of a big ugly wooden handle - cool! One thing that really drove the price up was the fact that the screw and nut have to be left hand thread if you want the vise to work in the traditional 'righty tighty, lefty loosey' fashion. It takes a bit to visualize, but in almost every vise configuration the nut is stationary and the screw moves, whereas in this style of wagon vise the nut is on the carrier and the screw is stationary. Therefore the threads must be reversed to make it work properly. So anyways, a screw and nut alone cost $200, more than half of the benchcrafted vise. Darn...

I turned a shoulder onto the screw to accept a 'garter', and an appropriate sized shaft to mount the wheel. For the carrier I had initially planned on building something similar to the Benchcrafted vise, where the two perpendicular pieces are machined & bolted together, but decided it would be quicker to machine the whole assembly out of a piece of 4" angle iron. It took some torch/press work to get the angle iron square, but once it was close I used my milling machine to true up the 'runners' and drill all the necessary holes. I used hot forged angle iron, because it's all I had kicking around, but for accuracy's sake it would've been better to use cold forged, which is usually much more flat and square, and doesn't have all the ugly heat scale that should be sand blasted off.

Again, my original intention was to machine three 1/4" bolts to hold the nut to the angle iron but decided instead to weld it. It's not as nice looking but it's soooo much faster and stronger. I would've liked to sandblast it once it was done but the only sandblaster I have access to is used to blast entire buildings, so it seemed overkill to fire it up for this!

To hold the screw to the end of the bench a garter is used. It's just two half moon disks that sit inside the shoulder I machined into the end of the screw. I had thought that maybe I would use brass but finally decided that Wenge would look cooler, and I have a bunch of scraps from a previous project.

First I cut a 2-1/2" circle with a holesaw, then used a forstner to drill a 1/2" hole in the center. The screw holes were drilled next. Once all the appropriate holes were drilled I shaved off the garter with the tablesaw, making sure to stick a piece of scrap to the face to keep the offcut from falling into the blade.

And then I split it in half with a zona saw and countersunk the holes. Done, and it only took about 10 minutes.

I decided to use maple for the runners rather than metal, and I attached them with lag screws in oversized holes so I could make a bit of adjustment if necessary.

I drilled the hole through the end cap of the bench a bit oversized to allow some adjustment with the garter placement, and unfortunately getting the vise to operate smoothly through the whole range of movement is a bit tricky. With the vise fully closed the nut is 8" away from the garter, and so the bit of backlash in the system is enough play that everything doesn't need to be perfectly aligned to work smoothly. As the nut approaches the garter however, there gets to be less and less play, and if the garter is not exactly centered it will bind the screw up. It took lots of messing around, but I eventually got it positioned correctly. There has to be a better way to get everything accurately lined up though. Hmmmm...

Monday, December 28, 2009


I have 3 weeks off school for xmas, so between all the sitting on the couch and eating 8-10 meals a day I've been rebuilding the top of my workbench. I built my bench while I was working at a timberframing shop in Invermere BC in 2004. It originally had a tailvise that I purchased from Atlas Machine in Toronto (if you have 'The Workbench Book" it's the tailvise that Michael Fortune designed for his bench) but no front vise because I never made my mind up about what to use. Unfortunately the benchtop warped very badly when I brought it back here to Alberta and despite my repeated attempts to flatten it I eventually admitted defeat. The warpage caused the tailvise to become inoperable and I had planed the top down so much I had almost reached the 'shoulder' of the dog holes on one corner.

After doing some research before starting my new benchtop I decided to forgo the tailvise and instead incorporate a wagon vise. The first wagon vise I saw was the one used on the Roubo bench on Khalaf Oud Luthiery's blog: (which is where the image below is from).

I have since seen a couple other versions, none as pretty as the one shown above however. The thing I like about the wagon vise is how rigid it is. When I was at the IP it seemed like I was constantly having to tweak my tailvise to get it flat to the benchtop, which isn't a concern with a wagon vise. The obvious disadvantage is the lack of ability to clamp pieces on-edge perpendicular to the front apron.

I've mentioned in recent posts how much maple costs in these parts, so in order to reduce costs I only made the top 1-1/2" thick, which is a bit scant. Realistically though, I don't forsee myself working on huge heavy pieces where a bench's rigidity may be called to question, and if I do see some deflection in the top I can always stiffen it up somehow.

After using a few different benches there were definitely a few things I wanted to incorporate into this bench, like lots of dog holes. It's frustrating when dog holes are spaced 3-4 inches apart because sometimes the piece you're planing ends up being 'between holes' and you have to either open your vise up super far or add a piece of scrap between your work and the dog. I also added a row of round dog holes because there's so many good workholding gizmos out there designed for them. Cutting all the dog holes was by far the single most labor intensive step, but I prefer using square dogs for planing.

Man, you sure need lots of clamps to build a benchtop. Even though I don't really like them I bought 5 pipe clamps just for this glue up. I clamped aluminum extrusions on either end to help keep the whole assembly flat - it worked well.

Next step - build the vise.