Swirlies, swirlies

I’ve been plagued with the “swirlies” lately, an artifact of using a random orbital sander on wood. They’re a well-known beginner’s mistake, and I know what the standard causes are: too much pressure on the sander ; clogged sandpaper ; moving the sander too quickly (probably my particular blunder here); moving through grits too quickly, etc.

If you blow up the photo above you’ll see some “swirly” marks on the chair. You can’t really see them from normal viewing distance, thankfully, but *I* know they’re there. I was plagued with them tonight while working on other chair legs, and took some time to experiment with how to best make them go away.

I like investigations. My work as a researcher is largely investigation-based, and that’s what keeps it interesting — having problems (socially important problems) and not quite knowing what the answers are, yet. If I knew all the answers I’d get bored pretty quickly.

So now I’m trying to turn my problems and learning mistakes into investigations. Try a lighter touch of the sander, a finer grit, slowing down the movement, until the swirlies disappear.

Funny, “swirlies” are my sweetie’s and my pet term for emotional turbulence, too. Maybe I should try some systematic investigation of those, too. 😉 That’s what meditation does for me, allowing me to sit back and just let the swirlies happen, to understand their nature better.

I’m off on vacation soon, so this blog probably won’t be updated until I’m back (but who knows, I hear the Internet has reached Maine, too!) I hope everyone’s summer is going well.


Touched up, oiled, and… uh oh

I love the part of the project where I lay the first coat of finish on wood. You never know quite what the finish is going to bring out of the wood, but it turns the piece from a dusty shop project to a beautiful work of art almost instantly.

It also brings out any flaws in the wood or surface preparation into stark relief. This time around I was careful with my finish sanding, so there were no obvious blemishes that were oversights from sanding. Those are easily reparable (if a slight pain in the booty).

No, this time the issue I thought might cause a problem reared its head in spades. I knew already that some of my wood was a little darker than others. When I bought the wood I didn’t stop to look at how or whether the planks (4 or 5 long ones) were the same tone, grain pattern, etc. Even if they weren’t (and they weren’t), I would have been pretty OK if I’d cut all the pieces for a single chair from a single plank of wood. But instead what I did was cut all the rear legs from one plank, all the front ones from another, the curved rails from another, etc. So now what I have (and the photo doesn’t really do it justice) is a chair that looks like it’s made of 3 or 4 different woods (not counting the decorative splat in the middle). Actually, if it had been made of 3 or 4 woods it might have worked, but the contrast is subtle enough that it just looks… confusing. My sweetie looked at it and said it made her eye wander all over the piece taking in the various shades (the curved rails are slighly pinkish, the front and back rails and one side rail signifncantly darker than the legs, the background to the splat a 3rd shade and coarser grain…)

So I think I’m going to go with a stain that matches the table. I was hoping to keep the wood “natural,” but the contrast between the pieces bothers me more the more I look at it. Boy, what a lesson learned! Again, there’s probably no other way to learn it. The stain will even out the contrast, but will also hide some of the beautiful grain in the wood. I’m going to keep the splats natural, and stick with my plan of having each one a different decorative wood (this one is maple – I think it’s more a “pomelle” pattern than “curly”). I’ll post a photo after I’ve done this one.

Meanwhile, I’ve been really getting into a book by Jim Hollis called The Middle Passage: from Misery to Meaning in Midlife. It’s a Jungian description of that change that occurs at midlife, when a lot of the old ways and habits of young adulthood no longer seem to work as well as they did, and profound change is on the horizon. It’s comforting, in a way, to know that the learning and growing never stop!

I hope everyone had a great weekend, and enjoys their week.

Break time

I’ve been working on my dining room chairs today. I started feeling that tinge of urgency, wanting to go faster and faster, and as I’ve written before, that’s a sure sign to stop and take a break before I do something silly.

They say chairs are some of the most exacting pieces of furniture one can make. Early on I could see the obvious reasons: the joints have to be precise enough to take a beating (not only bear a load, but deal with constant wiggling and movement). Some of the joints meet at non-right angles, so that entails some skill and thought in cutting the joints. OK so far.

Here’s what I’m learning now: chairs often come in a set. So if the back rail of one chair is a quarter inch higher than the same rail on another chair, when those two chairs are sitting side by side at a dinner table you’ll easily see the difference. So not only do I need to make each chair precisely, they ought to match across the set.

But that’s not all! Today I discovered another asymmetry (due to the curvature of the back rails) – on a test fit, I saw that the end of one rail was 3/32″ closer to the front surface of the back leg one one side of the chair than the other. Given that rail was supposed to set in (hang on – math time…) 11/32″ from the front surface, that was about a 30% diffrerence in the gap (small as the actual distance was). Trust me, it was noticeable. So I had to re-shape the curve at that end of the rail to make it mate symetrically.

Last but not least… I dry-fit the back leg/rail assembly, and everything looked hunky-dory. Joints were reasonably tight, etc. When I stood the assembly up on its feet, holding it as I would standing at the back of a chair, I looked down and uh oh! I could see that the back surfaces of the legs were not flat. The easiest way to tell if a board is straight is to sight down it as if looking down the sighting of a rifle. The slightest curature, warp, bow, twist, etc., will show itself this way. Problem is, this is what a dinner guest would do just by standing next to a chair – look down, and you’ll see the wobble on the surface of the back of the legs. Back to the bench and my dad’s trusty jack plane – took the hills and valleys right out of the legs. I’m glad I caught it!

After all that, I decided it was time for a break before I move any further.

I haven’t spent much time in the shop lately. Work has been pretty heavy (albeit interesting), and I’m really trying to stick with a sustainable fitness/exercise routine (which my sweetie and I call “huffy-puffy,” after a humorous comment by her NP. A half hour walk isn’t good enough unless it’s “huffy-puffy” fast for cardio) 🙂 My personal goal is 5 days a week, which I more or less achieved this week for the first time (not all exercise was purely huffy puffy, but hey, it’s a learning curve!). I’ve got my bike rack back on the car and have been taking my mtn. bike to work for riding after. Today we’re going up to redwoods in the Oakland Hills for some huffy-puffy before dinner.

I’d like to get these chair done – they’re pretty much taken over the shop and I don’t feel like doing other, smaller projects until they’re out of the way again. I’m also in the least-fun phase of any project – sanding, finishing, fine detail fitting, etc. But I’m really close to having usable chairs, too.

I hope all is well with y’all in blog-land. Enjoy your summer!

Marking the year

Photo: a recent mosaic project I completed, based on a photograph I took in Santa Cruz

This is a week of anniversaries and birthdays – my sweetie and I have birthdays 5 days apart, and the first anniversary of our first date is tomorrow, too! Maybe it’s because I’ve spent way too many years in school, but the June-to-June calendar feels like a natural year to me, moreso than the calendar years.

This was a good year, overall. Or rather, a year ago I was in a pretty dark space, and now that’s largely receded, so a lot of things have gotten better. But I still feel like there’s lots of room for growth, and that’s a good thing, as I plan on living for quite a while longer, and wouldn’t want to be bored!

I realized that if “life begins at 40,” then I’m still in diapers, in a sense. 😉 I bought my sweetie a book for her birthday: On Women Turning 40: Coming into our fullness. (BTW, I use “sweetie” in these pages because she wishes to remain anonymous on a public blog space). I’m thinking I should read through it for myself (or find the male equivalent). I feel like I’m nearing the cusp of some sort of transformative phase in my life, but I can’t put my finger on what it looks/feels like yet. It’s more than just tinkering with career options; a deeper sense of getting in touch with what really matters to me and then living my life based on that. Stay tuned!

Meanwhile, I’ve started getting back into the shop. The dining chairs are ready to be assembled one by one. I’m taking the first one very slowly, realizing I need to make sure they actually look like a matched set when all is said and done, and that entails making more measurements so that when two chairs are side-by-side, they’re the same height, the rails are the same spacing, etc. There’s some wiggle-room in some of the parts, and I need to be careful here. More of the “measure a gazillion times, cut (glue) once” rule.

Hope you’re having a good summer so far!

Happy New Year!

Wow, I’m taking way too long between posts. Just when I think “I should sit down and blog…” something distracts me. Not that I’ve made any “New Year’s Resolutions,” but I’d like to get into more regular writing.

Woodshop news: after winding down from the craft fair I did make a couple of tongue drums, for my nephews and a friend’s child. They were big hits, and I look forward to adding them to my repertoire in the future.

I took some time off over the holidays, and then started tackling the chairs to go with my dining table (yes, there are still touch-ups needed on the table…). Then I had a table saw mis-hap. The table saw is the freakin scariest piece of equipment in the workshop, bar none. It’s not just the blade itself, but it’s the fact that the blade rotates so that the cutting part (top and leading edge) are rotating directly back at the operator. If you drop a block of wood on a spinning naked blade it will shoot back with the force of a cannon shot. When ripping wood (cutting lengthwise) on the tablesaw there’s always the chance that a slight bend or twist will press the wood into the back of the blade, which is on its upward path. This lifts the board up and hurls it back – known as a “kickback.”

Fortunately, this wasn’t so bad. I did violate one cardinal rule, and got what I deserved. When a piece of wood is cut and doesn’t pass completely out the back of the blade (sometimes the offcut just “hangs” there on the back of the table), you should turn the machine off and wait for the blade to come to a complete stop before moving the wood. I didn’t. I know to be careful to not let the wood swerve into the blade, so with the saw still running I stepped in back and gently tugged the 2 foot piece of off-cut through that last couple of inches past the blade. I was never in danger of being cut, and was out of the path of the wood should it go flying. What I didn’t count on, though, was that moving the wood nudged the plexiglass blade guard into the path of the blade, and a tooth caught the guard. What happened next was truly amazing. The guard literally tore in half – the blade didn’t even have time to cut it, it just grabbed the guard and tore it up. This also pulled the splitter (a piece of metal right behind the blade designed to help prevent wood from swerving into the blade in the first place) out of its fastener and right into the blade, stopping the blade instantly. When I realized what had happened I turned off the motor (it was “humming” but not turning) and inspected the damage. Two carbide teeth from the blade had broken clean off, the splitter had a gouge in it, and the guard was a piece of junk. I’ll include photos – maybe – next time just to remind myself not to be an idiot again.

So, lesson learned: safety rules exist for a reason. I thought the only danger was kickback, and yes, I was very careful about how I moved the wood. To be honest I’m not entirely sure how the guard wiggled enough to touch the blade. It may have been loose to start with (in which case I actually did myself a favor by being on the other side of the table when it cut loose). At any rate, from now on I will always turn the machine off before making any move to remove offcuts.

I’ve got an order in for a replacement guard from a guy who’s making them in his own shop – it comes with an easy-to-remove splitter (the OEM version requires using a wrench in a tight space). I’ve had to remove the splitter/guard lately to make some special cuts for my chairs (yes, there are alternative “guards” in place to protect hands), and the problem with the OEM splitter is that most people, after removing it, don’t put it back on because it’s such a pain in the butt. I did some research on alternatives, and hope the Shark Guard pans out. I’ll keep you posted.

Oh, and I needed a new blade, too. I’m trying a Freud general-purpose blade (10″ 50T) and so far it has cut like a dream. Freud blades have a great reputation in the biz.

The chairs! I’m trying a pair from this Popular Mechanics plan. I’ve got the pieces cut out, the mortises drilled, and after a little more cleanup on some of the tenons, I’ll be ready to dry fit one. The anxiety-producing part is that this is my first chair, and I’m cutting pieces in their directions on blind faith it’ll all come together correctly. In a day or two I’ll discover whether I’ve made an error in measurement, or where joints aren’t fitting. The problem is I don’t have enough experience with chairs to know where there can be some wiggle-room with fit, and where perfect fits are required. I strongly suspect there is very little room for error in chairs, because they take such a variety of heavy loads and are moved around a lot. I’m sure there will be lots of lessons learned here. 🙂

That’s it for now. I’ll try to post more regularly in the future!