Nature wins again

July 15th, 2010

My apartment complex could be described as slightly worn, and so it not as pleasing to the eye as it could be.  My apartment number was evidently painted over during the last maintenance period, and has been restored to contrast with the door by the scientific application of a marker.  This level of art was at the back of my mind recently while I was painting pieces of a table on the walk outside my door, feeling slightly proud of my attempts to make *something* look better.

Then I looked over at the crack between the brick face of the building and the walk:

“That’s really pretty,” thought I, realizing that these flowers are essentially a weed that is flourishing in a small gap in the pavement.  (That’s the brick wall at the back of the picture).  Nature wins again.  My painting won’t result in anything that pretty.

When I went to pick up the dried items later, I looked again:

With the afternoon shadow upon them, the flowers closed up.  So… not only do they look better than my work, they adapt to the sun over the course of a few hours.  All this from a 1/4″ gap in the cement.
Nature, and humility, win again.

Ignition Spaghetti

July 12th, 2010

I was recently advised to change out the plug wires in my car.  Actually, the shop offered to do it and I declined, figuring that I could do this of all jobs.  Pleasantly, I could, which has historically not always been the case.  I like to think of my optimism when confronted with this sort of decision as being endearing.

This is one of the easiest jobs to do on an old engine – everything falls readily to hand.  Later engines (I’m looking at you, transverse V6es) can be much harder to do this work on.

The new wires went in with a pleasant “click” as the ends clipped onto the plugs.  Due to the age of the old wires, I hadn’t realized that this was supposed to happen (the clips had long since lost their springiness).  It is entirely possible that some of my recent ignition problems were simply due to loose plug connections caused by the aforementioned loose clips.  One of the problems with learning a subject with old/broken/suspect gear is that you don’t necessarily understand how it actually functions, working backward from the problem rather than forward from knowledge of the correct behaviors.    The problem is that learning this way means you need to repeat the past mistakes of the engineers who designed the item so as to understand the current design.  When confronted with what appears to be a nonsensical design decision, it’s usually a good idea to assume that there is an historical reason for it.  Whether or not that reason is a good one is a often decided by time.

Veneer Weave

July 1st, 2010

The qualified success* of the laminate veneer pen stand I made needs qualification.

Laminate veneer can be very strong, even when bent into curves.  Lots of plywood is just laminate veneer, and everybody depends on plywood for the workaday sheet wood needs of their life.  Curved wood is more interesting, though, particularly for someone interested in certain eras of furniture and art.

I made this little weave some time ago, using a tube of wrapping paper as the jig and duct tape as clamps.

The two strips are made up of two pieces of edge veneer, and they are glued together at the points where the two strips meet, and the component veneers are glued back-to-back along their entire lengths.

While I’m not entirely surprised at how strong this is, given the use of woven patterns for roofs, chair seats, baskets, and battleship masts, it’s still gratifying to see how resilient this assembly is:

It’s flexing, but it is also holding.  What is it being crushed by?


The weave sprang right back after removal of the book.  I’d like to figure out a way to use the larger (3/4″) strips of edge veneer to make some sort of three-dimensional structure that is useful, contra the weedy little 3/16 strips used in the aforementioned inkwell.

*note: not guaranteed to be a success at all

Clamps 1

June 28th, 2010

I think I need more clamps.

L to R: spring clamp, horrible misuse of a freebie adjustable wrench, chemistry lab hose stop clamp, too-big c clamp, hose stop clamp, slightly too-big c clamp, just right c clamp, on-sale-at-the-drugstore “vise grip” that is so bad it merits its own post, spring clamp.  3 proper for 9 used.

(Yes, that surface is curved.  My photography is (generally) not quite bad enough to be that distorted.)  (Nested parens reveal functional programming language experience.)


June 22nd, 2010

I have sandpaper in my kitchen sink.

While this sounds like an example of why computer language translation isn’t quite perfect yet (as per: My hovercraft is full of eels), it is instead merely a statement of fact.

I’ve gone through a considerable amount of wet/dry sandpaper recently, due to a confluence of several things:

a)  I really hate sanding things

b)  I’ve needed to sand things recently

c)  There seems to be a bit of a renaissance in the use of hand planes to smooth wood.

d)  As a result, there are numerous guides to cleaning up/truing old planes.

Since planes aren’t used much now due to the proliferation of power sanders, there’s zillions of old ones floating around on eBay, at garage sales, and between collectors.  Some are quite beautiful.  I thought I should get a plane.  However, I didn’t want to drop $80 on one, and while I like the work of Bridge City Tools and Sauer and Steiner, I really can’t afford to spend computer money on one of their fine products.  So, as many do, I purchased a cheap Stanley block plane:

As with most hand tools that have been superceded by power tools, there are many different sorts of planes, from itty-bitty little luthier planes for guitar making up to giant jointing planes that are over two feet of iron.

This one is a basic, non-adjustable, $20 plane for trimming end grain (low-angle blade) and other cleanup work.  Being $20, it isn’t as smooth as, say, a $200 Veritas.  The way to improve a cheap/old/corroded plane is to plonk some wet/dry sandpaper onto a really flat surface, wet it, and move the plane over it, using progressively finer grit.  You can then do the blade the same way, as per the Scary Sharp method.  An interesting question arises, though: what do most people own that is really flat?  Flatter than all wood that you’ll use the plane on.  Flatter than sheet metal that might be dinged or heat expanded.  Well, if you have a granite countertop and a tolerance for iron dust on your food preparation surface, you can use that (Hey, Iron has an RDA!).  If you have an iron table saw table, and aren’t worried about it rusting, you can use that.  But most houses have some spare plate glass somewhere, even if you have to pull it out of a picture frame.  Because of the way it’s made, glass is really flat, and has only the minor downside of wanting to cut you if you aren’t careful.  (As an aside, I always hated cutting glass when working at the hardware store.  I always expected it to burst out of the vertical cutting jig.)

Plane sole from the factory

The sole is smoother than it looks because it was milled in the direction of travel, that is, fore and aft, so the little bits of “tear-out” are in line with the usual direction of movement.  Note too the jagged casting inside the slot.  I cleaned this up with a file.

Plane blade - before

It’s hard to take pictures of shiny metal when hoping to show that it becomes shinier later.

So, after some work:

Blade in progress

This is kind of a dirty job.  Iron/steel dust floats all over the place in the water, and behaves more like dark, magnetic dirt than anything else.

sole in progress

One of the interesting things about this is that you can see where the sole was cast high or low.  For example, there’s what looks like milling “snipe” just before the slot, and the top right corner of the sole was cast high.

Several hours and maybe $6 worth of sand paper later, I was willing to call it done.  I should have started with 150 grit, since the sole needed more metal removed than my 200-320-400-600 pattern could do.  I eventually ran out of paper.

Sole - "done"

It’s a lot smoother now.  The high spots are all flattened, and the hollows are much shallower.

Blade - done

The blade is pretty sharp now.  I’m insufficiently hardcore to work my way to 2000 grit on the blade.

This was interesting work; I like jobs where you take something cheap and make it (cheaply!) obviously better.  Progress is easily observed.

Now I need to work on my planing technique.  Fortunately, I think there’s a podcast about it…