Tuesday, September 25

Oiling Begins

I’ve begun the oiling process. I work in batches of 10 pair, dip each handle in the antique oil and set it up on the drip rack. Normally the oil is applied with a rag or foam brush but because I need to work with many, smaller pieces and do it quickly this method works more efficiently.

Once oiled, the handles need to sit for 5 minutes to give the oil time to penetrate. Usually by the time I get these 20 pieces dipped and stood on the drip rack it is just about time to begin the rubbing.

Starting with the first handles to be dipped, I use a soft lint free cloth and wipe away all excess oil then hang the handle by it’s slot to cure. Curing of the oil will take at least 8 hours.

Once those are done I’ll work on scuff sanding the batch I oiled yesterday so they will be ready for another coat of oil then get back to hand sanding the unfinished handles to the finer grits required before applying the oil.

I have decided instead of sanding all 110 pair to 150 grit before proceeding with the finer grits, I’ll get the final sanding done on the 50 pair that Ros has ordered so I can get the order ready to ship on time. Afterward I can resume sanding the other 60 pair to 150 grit so they can be added to our On Hand stock as ready-to-finish, allowing our customers to have their order finished as they desire.


Friday, September 21

Sanding the Handles

Thursday, Friday and most of next week will probably be spent sanding these 110 pair of handles.

I use a random orbit finish sander to do the flat faces, but the rounded-over edges need to be done by hand using narrow strips of sandpaper that will flex into and around the tight curves of these handles.

We have in the past and could now use a Star Sander tool made by Dynabrade to sand the edges; it uses disks of sand paper that are slotted to form a circular mop. A bunch of these disks are bound together on a mandrel that can be chucked into a drill press or lathe and used as a fairly effective contour sanding tool.

Going this route saves a lot of wear and tear on my thumbs and fingers. However, these sanding heads only last for about 15 minutes of continuous sanding, then the grit begins to wear away and they become more of a polisher. In very fine grits they are probably excellent for this purpose. But once the “new” has been knocked off of the courser grits, it takes a very long time to get the rough wood edges smoothed down like they need to be. I could keep the Star Sander working efficiently by replacing the head every 15 minutes or so, but at around $15 each, adding $60 per hour to our tool charges would drive the price of these handles right out of site! So, doing it by hand takes no longer and is cheaper. It’s just hard on my hands. But that’s why we keep a large bottle of Aleve in the first aid box.

Aleve and I are old friends.


Wednesday, September 19

Slotting the Handles

I’ve spent the entire day (to this point) routing the slots in the bag handles that allow a bag of some sort to be attached.

This is a fairly straight forward process; using the router table, the fence set to cut the slot at the proper distance in from the lower edge of the handle and a pair of stop blocks limiting the end-to-end travel, thus the length of the slot.

The only head-scratcher is the fact that if we try to cut the slot all the way through the handle in a single pass, the bit jitters about, making a rough cut, and tends to burn. Rather than making a pass that cuts part way through, raising the bit and making another pass (on 220 pieces) I simply set the bit to cut just a hair more than half way through the blanks thickness. Make one pass, flip the blank over and make the second pass to complete the cut. This makes things go much more quickly and smoothly.

It takes about an hour to run 30 pair of handles. At this point I need to sharpen the bit because it’s starting to tear the wood. But I don’t want to mess up the set-up by moving the fence to lift the router out and remove the bit. But, I don’t need to; the motor portion of my router can unlatch and drop down out of the housing under the table, then I sharpen the bit while it’s still in the collet. When that’s done I simply slide the motor back up into the housing until the latch clicks and it is right back where it was and locked in place ready for another run.

With the slotting is done in all 110 pair of handles, it’s time to break down and clean the router table, and sweep the ceiling and walls around this piece of equipment before cleaning up the floor. These past few days have tossed a ton of wood dust around my shop, it’s time to get it cleaned up. I’ll spend the rest of the afternoon doing that. Tomorrow we’ll get to the *really* exciting part…


Tuesday, September 18

Shaping the Handles

Today I begin the final shaping of the handle blanks we milled out last week. There are two steps involved in this shaping, both done on the router table. This is one of those instances where having two router tables would be very handy, but since we don’t we’ll just have to get along with the one.

The first step is to round-over the edges; both around the outside edge and inside the handle hole, but just on the outside face. So some attention should be paid to the handle blank to decide which face should be the outside face, or face that shows. Then we use a round-over bit to accomplish the shaping. No template is needed this time because the pilot bearing runs on the handle itself.

By the end of the day I have all but a handful of the blanks rounded over, and those are waiting on filler to dry.

I also applied the first coat of oil for Catherine’s order of 4 pair of bag handles. This order was filled from On-Hand stock that completed but unfinished. This is where the extra handles I’m making now will go when they’re done.


Thursday, September 13

Thursday – Yet More of Same

We’ve got another beautiful day in store today, so with dust mask in hand I’m heading out to fire up the machinery. I’ll let you know what I got accomplished this evening.

* * * * *

I’ve used up the lumber I prepared for this project. Yield: 110½ pair of handle blanks. Time to close up shop and head home to change clothes before our trip to Morristown. Tomorrow (Friday) is my day to shop-sit at Treasures of Appalachia, so I won’t be in tomorrow. I will come in over the weekend to clean up the mess and break down the tools, but that will be about all til Monday.

Have a great weekend!


Wednesday, September 12

Wednesday – More of Same

In at 8:15, on the “production floor” at 8:30, spent the whole day doing what I did yesterday. Boy, production work is boring! At day’s end I have 76½ pair of handle blanks milled out.

I only lost one more piece to terminal tear-out. This is what it looks like. Most often it happens as I’m coming up the curve of the top of the handle, the bit snags and rips the top of the curve off along the grain. It happens.

Actually, there were two things different about today from yesterday: One, it was bright and sunny today with a nice breeze that just made the day so much more enjoyable. I opened up the big windows in the new shop and let that fresh air roll through. Yesterday was cloudy, dark and gloomy, looking like rain all day -- I wished it would rain; we need it -- but all we got for all the gloominess was a light sprinkle for a few minutes. The second thing was that I had the sense to wear a dust mask all day today. Yesterday I didn't wear it at all -- I normally don't, I don't normally need to. But yesterday with all the machining going on all day long my lungs were on fire when I went home. They still bothered me this morning so I took the precautions I didn't think about until too late yesterday. This evening I'm feeling no more distress than I did this morning. Mission accomplished. Walnut is toxic, I should have known better. But usually I'm not spending the entire day standing in front of one machine tool after the other sucking down the wood dust.

OK, I’m going to clean up the debris, lock up and head home for a shower and a Klondike bar. (no, that's not an eskimo tavern!)

G’Nite all!


Tuesday, September 11

Tuesday – Handle Blanks

I got in here at my usual 8:15 this morning, checked and responded to e-mail, and got to woodworking at 9:00. Today I am cutting out the handle blanks. The process goes like this:

Attach templates to one of the thin boards we made up yesterday. Most boards average 4½ feet long, and a board with few or no defects will accommodate 7 templates. If defects are present, I have to work around them and get fewer pieces from the board. If lots of defects are present, I’ll set the board aside; we’ll find something better to use it for than this project.

Then it’s over to the band saw – now equipped with a thin, fine tooth band for following tight curves. I chunk-up the board by cutting between the templates, then trim each piece to 1/8” away from the templates. I have to be careful not to cut into the templates though, in a moment the precise shape of these things will be very important. Cutting out pices of them would be a bad thing!

When the whole board is cut up and the pieces trimmed close to the templates I take the stack over to the drill press, which has been fitted with a Forstner bit. I’ll drill 4 overlapping holes – which is what Forstner bits excel at; over lapping holes – to clear out the majority of the waste in the handle-hole area.

That done, the stack goes to the router table, which is fitted with a patternmaker’s bit. This bit has a pilot bearing at the upper end of the bit that will ride on the template, and the cutters will pare away the excess wood so that the resulting piece is exactly the same size and shape as the template. This is where cutting up the templates becomes a real problem: oddly shapes templates mean oddly shaped handles.

Then I remove the templates from the completed handle blanks, fasten them onto another thin board and repeat… over and over and over.

The process takes me about 25 minutes per board and typically yields 7 blanks. By lunch time I had 14½ pair of perfect handle blanks and 2 pair that encountered minor tear out and will need some work.

By supper time I had 31½ pair of good ones, 5 pair needing work and 2 pieces that suffered terminal tear out and were tossed.

Tear-out results from the router bit snagging the fibers of the wood and lifting it instead of cutting it away. Sometimes it tears out a small chunk, other times it tears off a strip that gets into the body of the handle and ruins it. Two things contribute most to tear-out: trying to remove too much wood too fast, and a dull bit.

If there are woodshops in Heaven, I’m sure they will be blessed with cutting edges that are eternally razor sharp. But in this world, cutting tools need frequent sharpening and/or replacement. In making 100 bag handles, I will completely wear out 1 thin kerf re-saw band ($40.00), a 3/16” fine tooth band ($15), a set of planer knives ($45) will be taken about 1/4 through their useful life and I will need to re-sharpen the three pattern makers bits I have about 5 times. After two such jobs, these bits will be tossed out and replaced ($20.00 each).
These are some of the hidden costs that people don’t think about when they decide whether something like this is worth its cost. Though simple looking, these handles are time consuming to make and are hard on my equipment budget.

I use a pair of diamond paddles, one Fine, one Super Fine for my "in the field” sharpening. The edges would last longer if I had them sharpened professionally, but I’d need a half-dozen or so bits to get me through this job before I could send them out to be sharpened again. Eventually I may have that many on hand, but for now I touch up the ones I have until the job is done, then send them out.

It will take another couple of days to finish this phase of the project.

See you next time.


Monday, September 10

Monday – Lumber Prep

Being Monday the early morning is spent doing paperwork. Marie had an early meeting this morning, so I was on the job my 7:15. With the early start I was done by 9:00, and gratefully headed out to the tool room.

Today we begin work on Ros’ 50 pair of bag handles. She places an order like this a few times per year, so this time, since we’re pretty well caught up on the production schedule, I’m going to work ahead a bit and mill up enough lumber to make 100 pair. We won’t get 100 pair – but that’s what I’ll shoot for.

So, I pick through the pile of lumber that I brought in for this, pull out the most suitable boards, take them to the chop saw and cut them in half lengthwise so they are easier to handle.

Then I set up the band saw for resawing and split the 1” thick boards into two (almost) ½” thick boards. This takes all afternoon. Then I set up the planer.

Now I wait.

Surface planning this much lumber is very slow if I do it by myself. I have to feed a board into the front of the planer, run around the machine to catch it as it comes out the back, set the board on a table, run back around to the front, take a board off of the table and feed it into the planer, run around to the back… Lots of running back and forth. When you’ve got 40 boards to plane and each will go through the machine about 8 times. That’s 320 times of running around and back. It goes much quicker and with less physical strain if I have a helper “catching” as I feed the boards in. We’ll get the work done in 1/3 to ¼ of the time it would take me by myself.

So I find something else to occupy my time for an hour or so, then Marie will be here and we’ll get it done quickly. When we are done the thin boards are a little thinner and much smoother. And that is that for today.

See you tomorrow.


Friday, September 7

Friday – Finishing

I spent the morning finish sanding the two Breakfast Tray Tables I’ve been building this week, and part of the afternoon shooting lacquer on them. While the lacquer dried between shoots I worked on a variety of chores around the shop.

The end result is two oak Breakfast trays, one with a parquet tray and the other with a ribbon cut tray. I’ll give Gilda her choice and the one she doesn’t want will go into the On-Hand section. Marie says I should work in another pair, maybe one in walnut and one in cherry. I’d like to do one in Honey Locust as well just to see how that stuff finishes out.

Time to clean up the shop and get ready for the weekend.

See you next week.


Thursday, September 6

Thursday – Assembly

This was a long and busy day, but not entirely because of the tray tables I’m building.

I started off at 8:15 this morning – as usual – and I started by surface planing down the ribbon panel I made yesterday. Then, because it’s made of wormy oak it will need some extra preparation. We really like the look of wormy oak, so we don’t want to hide that but because this will be an eating surface we don’t want any pits where spilled food or drink may hide and fester. So, to fill the tiny worm holes as well as the open pores of the oak grain, I thin some wood filler to the consistency of heavy cream and apply it with a stiff bristled brush. I work it in well, paying particular attention to the areas where worm holes are most prevalent. Once it’s coated, I set it aside to dry for at least an hour; the filler must be good and hard before I proceed or I’ll just pull the filler up out of the pores and the pits.

So, while that’s drying I test fit the rails of the parquet table. The panel for that table came to my attention as we cleaned out the lumber shed this past weekend. We found this one last parquet panel all wrapped up and tucked away, it’s even pre-finished. Once I’m satisfied that the rails will fit perfectly I take it apart again and apply glue to the inside of the groove in each rail piece and re-install it on the panel, then clamp the rails together snugly.

While the glue on that is drying, I glue up the leg assemblies and attach the mounting blocks. I have to be sure that the legs stay flat on the table while I press the dowel into the holes in each leg, otherwise one leg will be kicked up when it’s folded, and the table will not sit steady when the legs are down. On a bed you’d probably never notice, but on the kitchen counter while it’s being loaded up it would wobble. I don’t like things to wobble.

Before attaching the mounting blocks I take the parts into the finishing room and pre-finish the areas that will be inside the leg-to-block joint. This will make it easier to get an even finish later on without having to take it back apart.

Now the ribbon panel is dry and I sand it first with 100 grit paper then with 150. Normally I only use 100 grit during construction, but because it is much easier to sand the panel properly before I assemble it to the rails than after, I do it now.

Then I glue the panel to the backer board – but not over the whole surface, just a stripe down the middle so the solid wood panel can expand and contract with changing humidity, trim the completed panel to exact size and install the rails.

Once the glue in the rail and panel joints is set up I use the router table to round over all the edges so the table will have a shape that your hands just want to feel and install the leg sets to the bottom of the tables. The clamps here need to stay on overnight to insure maximum strength in these joints. There is no place to hide screws here, so it’s entirely up to the glue joints.

Marie and I have the very first pair of breakfast tray tables we made, use them often and even though they’re over 10 years old, they have given us no trouble whatsoever. They’re still just as beautiful and sturdy as they were when new. So it works.

Along the way today I popped the top on our stack of walnut lumber and carted in a goodly amount for use in Ros’ bag handle order (50 pair) and some extra to use when I get back to Marie’s entertainment center. I did the base cabinet a few months ago, then the project got put on hold while cash reserves were replenished, now it’s almost time to get back to that one.

Also, I took advantage of having a couple of youthful and physically fit relatives visiting the area and coerced them into helping me move the big band saw. It was the one, last tool still left out in the old workshop that is now a lumber shed. I’ll be using it a lot on these bag handles, so I really need it inside the workshop. So… the four of us, our pick-up truck, a couple of lifting straps and a pair of wheeled platforms succeeded in getting this 400 pound beast moved from the lumber shed to our loading dock then inside and bolted to the floor of the workshop. Whew! What a relief.

And, Dan received his Pirate Chest today and was kind enough to take the trouble to write and let me know what he thought of it. [Click Here] to read his comments. It was a fun thing to build, so I decided to add it our our list if available items. You can check that out by [Clicking Here]

OK. It’s getting late. Everything is done, and I’m heading for home and a shower.

See you tomorrow.


Wednesday, September 5

Wednesday – Trimming & Shaping Parts

Today was spent trimming and shaping the parts I roughed out yesterday for Gilda's breakfast tray table. But I started by surface planning a nice board absolutely smooth on both faces then ripping it into thin strips (5/16 inch). The absolutely smoot faces are now my glue joints. When the strips are laid flat and held together with three lengths of wide masking tape, I set up my ribbon panel glue-up jig and had clamps at the ready.

A good sized panel like this means I must work quickly to get the glue in and the panel positioned and clamped before the glue in the first few joints starts to set up. I'm using a type 3 polyurethane glue for this because of it's extra strength and resistance to water weakening the joints.

Once the panel is clamped up I can move it aside and leave it for tomorrow.

Making the other parts consists of trimming them to exact size, milling the groove in the tray rails that will house the tray panel, cutting the matching angles on both ends of the legs, then laying them out for out the holes that must be drilled and the radiused corner that will allow the legs to fold up. I first lop of the excess wood at these corners with the chop saw, then radius then with a stationary belt sander. A ½” hole is bored part way through for the dowel spreader, a 7/32” hole is drilled all the way through for the pivot screw, then the edges are rounded over on the router table. I also round over the edges of the leg mounting blocks and lay out their pilot holes

And that completes parts creation. Tomorrow we will do the assembly work.

See you then.


Tuesday, September 4

Tuesday – Roughing out parts

Because yesterday was a holiday I did not get into the office to do the usual Monday bookwork, so that got done this morning. It was a double dose actually because it was also month end.

Do not, however, allow yourself to think that because I was not “on the clock” I was jus lounging around somewhere getting fat and lazy, noooo sir. I took advantage of the extra day to finish cleaning out another corner of the lumber shed which was formerly our workshop. This corner was the finishing area – lots of cans and bottles to move, and 2 cabinets to pull down & scrub out and move inside the new finishing area. This took most of the day. Getting back to woodworking is almost like a vacation after that.

So, after lunch I got the parts for Gilda’s breakfast tray table roughed out. Actually, I got enough parts for two tables roughed out. While cleaning up outside I found a breakfast tray table panel all made up, wrapped and tucked away; an extra from some past time I made breakfast tables. It must have been a while back though as it is a parquet style tray. We have been making the ribbon panels for over a year. So I will make one of each and allow Gilda to choose the one she prefers and put the other in the On Hand section. Christmas is coming, it’s time to start stocking up the On Hand area to help buffer the demand later on.

Marie and I have an appointment this evening, so I’m quitting for the day to go get cleaned up and changed.

See you tomorrow.


Saturday, September 1

Saturday – Finishing

Because I had to be elsewhere yesterday I didn’t get any work done here, so I’m making up the time today.

Most of that time was spent shooting lacquer; two full coats, then scuff sand and shoot a third coat on the exterior. During the dry-times for the first and second coats I went out and got my weed whacking done.

While the third coat dried, I cleaned out the spray gun.

When the lacquer was hard I reinstalled the hardware. And it’s done!