Pen vs. pencil, first round to pencil

When I start feeling clever I know that I’ve probably A) stumbled on a solution that is painfully obvious; or B) found the most ass backwards way of doing something.

I do not like pencils. They are needy with all the sharpening. And I’ll blame lines that are hard to see on the pencils (not my aged eyes). Then there is the lead that gets everywhere. Maybe just my clumsy meat mitts, but again, I blame the inanimate object.

Mechanical pencils suck, too.

I was playing around to try and make scribe lines look clearer (where a knife line isn’t the best remedy), and I remembered my wife’s batch of super fine pens. With all permissions, I took one. It was marvellous. So thin, so clear. I really thought I had a winner.

Feeling puffed up I drew some lines on scrap wood, marvelling at how the pen line remained consistent while the pencil quickly went from thin to fat. (I need to get out more often.)

And then I tried  making a box using it. It crapped out after 1.5 dovetails. The line became spotted and weak. I tried another thinking the ink might have dried up. Same thing. Another pen from the batch – spared my experimenting on wood and thus the need to explain to my wife that I had killed not two but three of her cherished pens – doodled fine on paper for a long time. It would seem that the very fine tip of the pen is getting clogged.

Pencil wins this round, but I’m not giving up. Screw you, pencil. I’ve ordered a batch of possible champions. Vamos a ver.

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Rust never sleeps

Caribbean living is great. We’re two miles from the beach, it’s always shorts and t-shirt weather. A flock of parrots hangs out in our neighbours 50 ft palm tree.

And humid. Always humid. Which means that my little shop is prey to corrosion like nothin’ else. Salty breezes, heat, humidity, sweat. rusty-tools Wiping tools down after use alone doesn’t cut it. I have seen corrosion start in the time that I’ve set something down and picked it back up. It’s frightening.

I don’t need all my tools to be shiny and neat, but I do want them to last. Since moving here I’ve had to work a lot more to keep rust at bay. The tool chest is lined with anti-corrosion emitters and everything gets a good wipe down with a dry rag and/or brush before being put away. I try so hard not to blow dust out.

The friction from use keeps plane soles and cutting edges fairly clean. The parts I touch and leave sweaty meat prints on suffer. So I started experimenting with ways to get a barrier between me and the steel.

Boeshield T-9 spray is great if you’re putting tools up to store, not if you’re using them. It’s a bit greasy (as lubes are wont to be) and wipes off. Pretty much the same for conservators wax. ProtecTool Wax did a bit better, but doesn’t hold up after a few uses. I was wiping on a coat after nearly every session in the shop, and that stuff ain’t cheap.

To be fair, this may not be the best test case for these products. Outside of dipping everything in hot vinyl, nothing is going to stay on the tools forever. But cleaning and rust prevention are like sharpening to me, the less I have to do it the better.

Somewhere I read that shellac was a good barrier.  I took some garnet that was lying around and tested it on a few planes and chisels. It actually holds up to my manhandling over many uses, but comes off immediately with wood friction. Say, the side of a plane used for shooting. And while the aesthetics of my tools isn’t paramount, garnet shellac can make it look like your Stanley is shedding an old tan.

After a recent clean up I put several coats of paste wax on the tools. I’d made a batch with a healthy ratio of carnauba, and I’m hoping that the hardness of that will hold out a bit longer. So far, so good, with the added benefit of making the plane soles a bit slicker.

Further alchemical exploration may be necessary. Possibly blonde shellac followed by paste wax. Or mixing ProtecTool with carnauba.  Vamos a ver, no?

Square satisfaction

Every night I head out to the shop to empty the dehumidifier. It’s damn near romantic out there that time . A single soft lamp, the scent of wood, neighbourhood dogs and kids quiet. Looking at the shavings and works in progress brings a level of satisfaction and contentment that is new to me, at least as far as day-to-day work goes.

A lifetime ago I could have been considered successful in the white collar world, a world I never have given much a f*** about. Even though I was “headed places”, I walked away when my daughter was born to be a stay-at-home dad. While caring for my daughter was enough reason to go, it helped that leaving the office did not feel like a loss. Success, whether in a completed project, raise, or promotion was fleeting or absent. Satisfaction was rare, contentment  non-existent.

Getting a real handle on sawing dovetails this week? Now that is something. For those of you who can do this already, the following may not be of interest.

Sawing tails that don’t need repair has been a challenge. I was somehow sawing rounded shoulders – the cut was not just angled down, but in as well. Cleaning them up was tedious and led to just as many mistakes. After some time and focus, I’ve found a stance that works for me. It’s similar to a wrestling or boxing stance – left leg forward, right foot back. Knees bent, back straight. Left hand forward resting on the workpiece, right hand loosely gripping the saw and forward enough that I can go for a full stroke without moving my body. The wobble from body movement was causing me to pull the saw in or out with my shoulder, and thus the rounded tail.

This stance lets me start the kerf comfortably with the heel of the saw while not hovering over the vise. When the saw is set in the kerf, I can then do fuller strokes without wobbling . The light grip is key, and difficult to maintain. I have a natural inclination to kung-fu grip. With a soft grip the kerf holds the saw in line and the saw does what it wants to – cut straight. Tensing up causes the saw to wiggle , then the kerf becomes jagged and off.

Watching the saw move along the line introduces enough of an optical illusion to get off square for me. A slight, very slight parallax is created by the angle of the saw as its tilted down. The toe end of the saw seems to be closer to the line then the heel end. I overcorrect, and throw the kerf off square. This is such a tiny little thing, and sometimes almost unnoticeable. Other times really a pain. The less paring and cleaning needed, the better the joint, or so I am finding.

I’ve corrected for this by starting the kerf along the line, then watching the reflection of the board in the blade as I cut. If the reflection doesn’t look like a straight line continuing through the blade, i.e., it heads away or towards me, then I know I’m not square.

Starting the kerf at the angle of the tail has also helped since I don’t turn my hand in the middle of the cut. I’ve slowed down. Deep breaths and measured cuts to get the kerf started straight. The seconds that costs on the front end saves minutes on the back end repairing shitty saw cuts.

All of this really comes into play as I cut the left-hand side of tails, with the line awkwardly on the right-hand side of the saw. It doesn’t seem like that be such a big deal, but at times it feels like it throws everything out of whack.

For some of you that may induce a loud “duh”. But that got me to a really snug dovetail that didn’t look like it was chewed by a rat. And that was immensely satisfying.

It smells good, at least

The shop, I mean. Holidays have kept me away from it, even with the minimal social schedule we keep. I finished a box made of amburana, but it was done in nibbles spread over days.

I managed a trip out to a lumber yard I’d not been to before. It was massive, and I was thrilled by their selection. The other place I go to has some decent S. American hardwoods, but a small selection and only of 1″ thick stock.

This place has Fijian mahogany, maple and oak in addition to a plethora of regional hardwoods. I ended up with a bunch of 2″ thick stock for various projects.

Oooh, that smell. Not of death but of wood (name that song refernce). A mixture of sapele, cumaru and pine is wonderful. I’ve not worked much, but ran out to get some recharge by standing in the shop, breathing in wood and lovingly stroking a plane like a simpleton.