Sunday, December 28, 2008

Visiting Jeff Fleisher

In October, I took a class in Woodworking Fundamentals at the Leesburg, Virginia, Woodcraft store. The teacher for the two-day class was Jeff Fleisher, a master woodworker who lives an hour away from me in New Market, Virginia. Jeff does business under the name of Jeff’s Wood Designs. Since the class, Jeff and I have corresponded periodically about woodworking issues. Recently, he invited me to visit his shop and yesterday I did so.

First, he gave me a tour of his home to see many of the wonderful pieces he has built, some of which are shown on his web site. In addition to doing fine woodworking, he has embellished much of his work with outstanding chip carving, which makes the pieces truly unique and beautiful.

Then we headed out to his woodshop in a detached garage, to see where he works and examine his current project, a desk he’s been commissioned to build. He’s posted photos of his progress on the web. We walked around the shop and talked about each of his tools and jigs. Following that he gave me advice about things I should think about adding to my own shop, including Practical Design Solutions and Strategies (Taunton), the Wixey Digital Protractor, a basic set of chisels and waterstones for sharpening them, and the GRR-Ripper System for holding down work on the table saw and router. Fortunately for my budget, the latter three are currently on sale.

We spent a couple hours of animated woodworking talk and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. He has a standing invitation to visit my woodshop when he’s in the area.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Getting Ready for Projects

Since I got my SawStop table saw in place, I've assembled it and set it up for use, finally making a few test cuts. So at last my woodshop is complete and I'm ready for projects.

In addition to getting the table saw installed, I also had to reset the knives on my jointer. I have a 6 inch Grizzly jointer that I was having a lot of trouble with. Every time I jointed something it came out skewed. So I checked the level on the infeed and outfeed tables; it turns out they were fine. Then I reset the blades. I had a lot of trouble with this, partly because the knives had a lot of grease on them from shipping and they did not move freely under spring pressure. I cleaned them, then set them the best I could with the tool I have. I also used a dial indicator to try to get them consistent, but I have to admit that it was my first time using that tool and I don't know that I got them right. Later today I'll run another board through the jointer and evaluate that to see if I have things set correctly. If not, it'll be back to basics on the jointer until I learn to do it right. Once I have that settled, I'll be ready to roll.

One of the first things I'll be doing is building some jigs to help me get accurate results with my woodworking. So yesterday morning I went to the local lumber company (which in my rural area I'm very lucky to have) and picked up a couple sheets of 1/2" Baltic plywood, a sheet of 1/4" hardboard and some 1/8" plywood for templates.

Here are my plans, pretty much in the following order, as of now:
  1. Make a pair of pen rests for fountain pens from a block of Burmese rosewood I have
  2. Make a jig to cut splines in boxes using a plan from Paul Anthony's new book, Complete Illustrated Guide to Table Saws (Taunton)
  3. Make the wooden faces for my vise from some maple I have on hand, then face them with some leather I picked up free from my local upholsterer
  4. Make a splined box using a plan that appeared in the December 2008 issue of Fine Woodworking
  5. Make a sled for crosscutting on the table saw
  6. Make a sled for making miter cuts on the table saw, which I'll use for picture frames
  7. Make a table for my drill press
  8. Make some picture frames to hang my photographs

I'll be writing about my experience with these projects as I go along.


Friday, December 19, 2008

Assembling the SawStop

My SawStop contractor saw was finally delivered on Tuesday, December 16. I immediately set about assembling it. The first job was to put together the base, which took a little over an hour. After that, it was time for a coffee break.

Then I added the optional wheels. These are operated by a foot switch, which will allow me to raise and lower the saw base from the floor with an easy motion. I'll need that to move the saw away from the wall when I cut long boards and sheets of plywood.

The saw arrived in a number of boxes that contained the saw and table, the fence system (two boxes), the optional cast iron table extensions (two boxes), and the wheel assembly. A very nice thing about the SawStop assembly is that the saw comes with a very easy-to-use assembly poster that is color coded for each step in the process. This color coding matches a blister pack that contains the small parts (e.g., nuts, bolts, washers) needed for each step. This makes the assembly somewhat foolproof and guards against parts getting lost during assembly or the confusion that normally ensues concerning which part goes where. Despite all SawStop's precautions, however, I nonetheless ended up with several bolts that I have no idea what to do with.

After getting the base and wheels together on Tuesday, I had a day of down time waiting for a friend to come on Wednesday afternoon to help me lift the 140-pound saw onto the base and attach the heavy extension wings. That accomplished, I was able to finish the assembly on Thursday by adding the front and rear rails, the fence and the extension table that appears on the right.

The saw is now complete, though it is not ready yet to run. Next I have to adjust all the settings, namely to ensure that the blade and the miter slots are parallel, that the fence is parallel to the miter slots and that there is adequate clearance between the saw blade and the splitter and the cartridge that stops the blade in an emergency, among other things. I hope to accomplish all of that on Friday and actually make a few test cuts.

SawStop makes a larger version of this saw. I got the 36" table. They also make a 52" table, but I judged that I would not have enough room for it in my shop and also limited need for it. After getting the saw into its assigned place, I can see that I made the right choice. That space will work fine for normal cutting. However, when I have a long piece to cut, I will need to bring the saw forward into the walking space so there is enough room on the outfeed side. If needed, I can also turn the saw 90 degrees to allow more room on both the infeed and outfeed sides. Thus the importance of the wheels.

Already I am thinking about projects I want to build using this saw and my other tools. For starters, these include (not necessarily in this order):
  • A pen rest to be used with my fountain pens (this actually doesn't require the table saw but it does require a better drill press table; see below)
  • An improved drill press table
  • A miter jig for the table saw
  • A crosscut jig for the table saw
  • Some boxes with splined, mitered corners
  • Some tissue boxes
  • Picture frames

I hope to get onto these projects soon, though probably not until after the holidays. By then, I also hope to have my Delta dust collection unit ready to install so I can run my machines with a reasonable amount of dust control.

My goal down the road is to make some furniture. To that end, I'm scheduled to take a class in furniture-building one weekend in February. I'll write about all of these things as I tackle them.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Clearing the Air

Everything I have read about shop safety emphasizes the importance of breathing air clean of the fine dust created by woodworking. So I set a long-term goal of installing an air filtration device to help keep the dust down. I did some research and settled on a Steel City model that, as luck would have it, is on sale until the end of the year. I'd planned to order it online and get it via free shipping, but when I was at Hartville Hardware when I was in Ohio a couple of weeks ago, I saw a floor model and decided to buy it on the spot.

Installation was fairly easy. I merely had to install the supplied eye bolts to the top of the machine, drill holes for hooks in the overhead joists and then with the help of a friend I hung the unit from the hooks. You can see the installation in the picture.

My only complaint is that the remote control only works when pointed at the back of the unit. This means that instead of sucking air away from the work area, the reverse is happening, and the exhaust air is blown back toward where I will be working. This may turn out to be a welcome thing in the summer, though.

I have plans to also install a dust collection system using a 1-1/2 hp unit from my brother-in-law, but that will happen next year.


Monday, December 15, 2008

My Newest Toy

Yesterday I went by Sears in nearby Warrenton and picked up my latest toy, er, tool, a spindle sander. This is something I had not planned on buying right now, though because we used it beneficially in a class I took recently I had decided it was on my "to get" list for sometime in the future. But Sears had a sale on it for $80 off and I decided that now was the time and ordered it for delivery to the store. Though there was only one rating on line (five stars), I had seen favorable comment elsewhere and decided that this was the model I wanted. So I got it for $210 including sales tax. I think I made a good deal.

It seems to be solidly built, with a cast iron table. It offered the most sizes of spindles of any of the models I found on line. The one drawback is that the table doesn't tilt as some other models do. I haven't had time to try it out yet. I don't even have a project going yet that could use it. Projects are a thing of the future until I get the table saw installed and set up. That process will start on Tuesday when the saw gets delivered to my basement shop. Then the assembly and setup starts. I have someone coming on Wednesday afternoon to help me lift the saw onto the base, so the actual setup process will probably have to wait until Thursday. I do have a few projects in mind to start with. I'll talk about these in another post.


Friday, December 12, 2008

My Saw's Here, Finally!

About 5:00 this afternoon (Friday) I got a call from Woodcraft saying that my SawStop contractor's saw had finally come into their shop. I immediately called several of the movers in my vicinity to get quotes and without much delay set up delivery for Tuesday. That, at least, is a day when I will be here all day and once the crate is unloaded into the basement, I'll be able to devote several hours to unpacking, assembling and setting it up.

I had a 20 amp. power line run to the location where the saw will live so that much has been taken care of. I have a few small pieces of furniture and hardboard to move out of the way, an old portable armoire to disassemble, a bookcase to move, and then I'll be able to roll my jointer out of the middle of the floor where it resides at the moment. I'm trying to reset the knives in the jointer at the moment and am finding that to be a learning experience, but that's a story for another day. I should have all that (except the jointer knives) done by Sunday afternoon.

Some time ago, the editors of Popular Woodworking assembled a SawStop contractor's saw in their Cincinnati office to test it out. On their website, editor Glen Huey described his experience in assembling and setting up the saw. You can read about it here. I've read and studied it and I downloaded the 106 page manual that comes with the saw and have also started reading that. I want to be ready to assemble things as soon as I can.

So for now it's preparing and waiting until Tuesday. Then the fun begins. I'm sure I'll have more to say about the installation of this most important piece of equipment later on.


Monday, December 8, 2008

Waiting for the SawStop to Arrive

I've done a lot of work to get my woodshop ready for action, but there's one major thing missing: a table saw. Frankly, I was afraid of table saws, knowing how prone they can be to kickback and having seen the statistics on lost fingers and damaged hands. I had installed a radial arm saw, hoping it would suffice and that I wouldn't need a table saw at all. But, the more I read about woodworking and building the kinds of projects I want to build, the clearer it became that I would need a table saw. From that point on, I had two jobs to do--figure out which saw to buy and clear a space to put it. Of these, the second job turned out to be the hardest.

About the time I decided I had to have a table saw, SawStop--manufacturers of the revolutionary new safety device intended to prevent serious injuries on the table saw--came out with a contractor's saw version of the cabinet saw they had brought to the marker earlier. I headed over to Woodcraft in nearby Leesburg to check it out. I wanted to find out if the safety features of this saw were slapped on a mediocre saw and whether I would be ahead by buying another saw instead. What I found was a pretty darn good piece of equipment that had the advantage of also being much safer to use. Never seen the hot dog demonstration, the one where they stick a hot dog into the blade and have it stop? Watch it here!

Anyway, after convincing myself that this was a very good saw that also has fantastic safety features, I ordered one, adding the cast iron wings for stability, the mobile base and an upgraded fence. To save money I allowed my order to be bundled with others to save on shipping costs. I think that may have been a mistake because now more than a month later, the saw still has not arrived, though I believe it may have been shipped. I guess it is out in the great American hearthland somewhere.

My second task was to clear out a space to put it when it does arrive. That wasn't so easy, as the basement location for the woodshop had been used as a dumping ground for all manner of things over the years. There were, in no particular order, an old incomplete arm chair, boxes of assorted stuff, various pieces of furniture and a Honda motorcycle. Over a period of weeks, I picked at the assemblage and finally cleared out a spot that I hope will be a sufficient workspace for my table saw. Here's what it looks like now. The grease spot on the floor is what's left of the Honda at this point. I've done a lot more in the shop and have assembled and positioned all the tools I intend to get. I'll discuss those in future posts. But it's the table saw I need to get started on my projects.

I just got off the phone with Woodcraft. They say the saw should be in at the end of this week or the beginning of next week! I can't wait. Then I'll turn my attention to getting it delivered to my basement, assembling it and setting it up. It's a lot to look forward to!


Friday, December 5, 2008

Getting Started in Woodworking

I've always wanted a woodshop and tools and the ability to build things, never mind that I didn't know what that might be. But aside from a few simple hand tools and a small contractor's table saw I once owned, I never had room for anything. That was especially true after my first marriage ended and I landed in a second-story condo with only an outside balcony for workspace. Even so, I set up to make picture frames there with a Craftsman miter saw and a Wolfcraft router table and Ryobi router. I even managed to make a few before the idea of spreading that howling noise throughout the neighborhood put me off. After that, the equipment sat exposed to the elements for several years, unused.

Fortunately, I found and married the woman of my dreams. I've jokingly described her as "the widder lady with the big basement." She's much, much more than that to me, as you might expect, but it's nonetheless true. I took over payments on the house where she was living and, yes, it did have a large, relatively unused basement. What might have been off-putting to others was pure opportunity for me.

Since we married a year ago, I have been on a journey to make something different of that space. That has meant cleaning it out of old, unused and unwanted furniture (Goodwill knows me when they see me coming!), a non-functioning Honda motorcycle of uncertain vintage, and what for lack of better description can simply be labeled as "stuff." That's not complete yet, but enough room has been created for me to work with.

The second task was to buy a couple 4X8 sheets of pegboard, frame, paint and hang them. I painted them a bright yellow, two coats, and managed to bolt them to the concrete block basement wall with masonery screws singlehandedly (if you want to know how that is done, just ask). That was sufficient to get many of my accumulated tools off the floor and out of the toolbox where I can actually see and find them.

Third, I built a workbench. Not the tiny, slapdash, unstable kind of thing I had been used to, but a large, solid device featuring doubled, glued and bolted 2X4 members and two sheets of 3/4" plywood glued together for the top. I bought the plans for this from somewhere on the Web, I no longer recall where. It is nothing if not sturdy, though now that I have read more about them, I find that it lacks holes for bench dogs (something I never imagined I would ever want). Perhaps I can retrofit it for them. I am in the process of adding a Lee Valley vise which will feature maple facings.

Then I hung lighting to convert the formerly dingy space into a brightly lit, inviting and safe workspace. And, I installed a heavy-duty wall rack system to accommodate all the hardwood lumber I expect to be acquiring in future months.

Those tasks accomplished, I set out to acquire the tools I would need for a genuine woodshop. I started with a Craftsman radial arm saw, something I had always aspired to own as an alternative to a table saw. In retrospect, I think it is a tool I could have done without, a table saw proving to be essential. I added a Grizzly 14" band saw, a Craftsman 12" drill press, a Grizzly 6" jointer, replaced my old router table (which was frozen up with rust) with a Freud router table and router. I added a Craftsman planer. I ordered a SawStop contractor's saw, which is on a truck somewhere in the middle of America as I write this. I bought a Delta belt and disk sander after using one in a class I took recently. And I added a Steel City mortising machine. I also purchased a Steel City air filtration unit, which is still in my car, and I am negotiating with my brother-in-law for a deal on a 1-1/2 hp. Delta dust collection system. When all this is in place, I will have, I believe, a very complete woodworking shop and I will be ready to create huge piles of chips and sawdust and maybe, even, something worth looking at.

In addition to preparing the space, I have invested in a number of basic books on woodworking and have been devouring them over the last several months. I've become the accomplished armchair woodworker and subscribe to numerous magazines and more blogs than I can really keep up with.

In future postings, I'll have a lot more to say about the details of this journey and about my soon-to-be-started first projects.