Friday, August 11, 2017

The Roubo Frame Saw - Part 1

For a long time I've thought about purchasing a band saw.  Mind you, I don't have the space for one, but that doesn't stop me from thinking about it.  Band saws can do a lot of things, from cutting curves to resawing thick boards into thinner boards.  My interest was in the latter.  After some research and reading, I decided to make something that would fit in my shop and allow me some resawing capability.  I ordered a Roubo frame saw kit from Blackburn Tools.  When the kit arrived last week I was giddy with excitement, but a little worried about the condition of the package.
Bent package
Turned out not to be a problem at all.  The parts were well wrapped and the package was stuffed with wadded-up brown paper.
Kit components
I got the 36" saw kit.  Isaac Smith, the proprietor of Blackburn Tools, will sell these with the blade unsharpened and the teeth unset or with the blade sharpened and the teeth set.  I chose sharp and set.  The saw plate is 0.042" thick and the total set is somewhere around 0.052-0.055 (difficult to measure).

The brackets are heavy 1/8" thick steel with a slot cut on one end to accept the blade.
One of two brackets

Slot for the blade
Slot on other side.  Guessing this was the "exit" side of the tool that cut it.
Note: that roughness was only at the surface - it was perfect on the inside surface.
The brackets apparently are welded at a seam that can be seen on the inside.
See the weld?
Closer view
This took only a minute or two to file away with a coarse file.
Hump filed away
A heavy eye bolt provides the mechanism to tighten the blade.  The small end of the eye bolt is tapered to fit into a conical hole in a bearing plate that is housed in a mortise in the handle.

Speaking of the handles, let's get into the making of the frame.  I had a big chunk of 2" thick poplar and got all four parts from it.  The final thickness of the frame members is 1 5/8" and I took a couple days to get it to final size, allowing some movement overnight (twice) before planing to final dimensions.
Wood parts ready to go
Initially, the shorter handle pieces were cut over long, 25" to be exact.  The plan provided by Blackburn had a 24" handle.  I'm a fairly slim guy and fretted for a long time about how wide I was going to make my handles.  I wanted the saw to be comfortable.
25" long handle stock in back, ~23" piece in middle and 20 1/2" piece in front
So I found some scrap pieces of different lengths and held them as if I was holding the frame saw handle to see how it felt.  In the end I went with 22" length.
Made an 11" template to mark half a handle
While things were still square and easy to work with, I chopped a mortise for the bearing plate, which was exactly 1" x 2" x 1/4".  The mortise was long enough to even out the bottom with a router plane, but unfortunately the grain was diving to the right (in the picture below) and that side was not nearly as smooth on the bottom.
Mortise for bearing plate
At first I kept the mortise depth not quite the thickness of the bearing plate so that it would sit a little proud of the surface.  I was thinking that some wood compression might sink the plate more fully.
About 1/16" proud
Turned out this didn't work, as the dimensions of the blade and stretchers were such that the blade couldn't reach the keepers.  So I had to fully sink the plate.
Bearing plate flush with surface
I didn't get pictures of the mortising and tenoning of the frame members, but here she is dry-fitted.
Well, I was zinging with anticipation, so I made a small test cut even before shaping the handles.
First test cut - oh, man this felt good
Back to the shaping.
After marking the shapes (including the round-over areas) ...
... made a bunch of stop cuts
Then chiseled out the waste, chiseled close to the lines, rasped and filed smooth and got handles I was happy with.  No in progress pics, but here are the parts after applying a couple coats of BLO.
Soaking up some BLO
And here she is assembled.
The handles are comfortable and I like the way it looks
I shaped the handles a little differently from the way the plan laid them out.  In the plan, the rounded ends extend all the way to the bottom edge of the board (yellow arrow).
Red arrow shows bottom location of my handle
Yellow arrow shows the plan location
But I was a little worried that with poplar I might get more flex than I wanted.  In the plan, almost 7/8" of material is removed from the top edge, making the final width of the handle about 2 1/8" just inside the stretcher mortises.  By moving the handle ends up away from that lower edge (to the red arrow), I got more like 2 1/2" thickness just inside the mortises.  So far I haven't noticed any flex at all.

I've made a few practice runs at cutting up some stock.  And HOLY CRAP!  This thing can go through some wood in a hurry!  I'll post on that experience next time.  But suffice it to say, there is a learning curve involved in getting a straight cut.

Friday, August 4, 2017

A Tale of Two Chisels

While chopping mortises for the plant stands, I thought I'd use a mortise chisel I came across at a garage sale not too long ago.  Prior to that my, mortising chisel was my standard Irwin bench chisel.
1/4" Irwin bench chisel and ~1/4" Ulmia mortising chisel
These two chisels are very different from each other.  Aside from the obvious difference in length, the Ulmia has a much thicker blade, a shaped wooden handle (as opposed to the plastic handled Irwin) and the blade has a tang while the Irwin is a socket chisel.  Both bevels are ground to about 25°, with a microbevel of about 30°.
The edge profiles
The difference in length is quite significant.
That's one long chisel
The length of the mortise chisel comes in handy when it comes to keeping the chisel vertical by sighting down the piece being mortised.
Much easier to tell if you're off vertical
Can still use this method with the Irwin,
but any deviation from vertical is not as pronounced
I timed a few mortises, using either chisel in turn.  They were both freshly sharpened.  There really wasn't any difference in how long it took to chop a mortise.  But look at the cutting edge of the Ulmia after just a few mortises.
See the white reflection at the end?
That's one dull chisel
I don't know about these Ulmia chisels.  Maybe the steel is bogus.  Maybe there was a hard spot in the oak that I mortised that was tough on the edge.  Maybe it was user error.

I really like the advantage that the length gives.  But if the steel is not going to hold up to the stresses of mortising, it might not be worth it.

FLASH!  This just in!  Thought I was done with this post, but just today I received in the mail a mortise chisel.  I had no idea this was coming my way.  Ralph, I don't know what to say, but thanks.  I owe you big time for this.
It's a 3/8" (or a tad over 3/8") "pig-sticker" from I. Sorby!!
Holy mackerel, this thing is beefy!  Look at that handle.  I think it'll be able to take a bit of pounding.  And here it is compared to the other two chisels.
The Ulmia chisel looks like a skinny runt by comparison
All I can say is, wow!  Can't wait to sharpen this chisel up and try it out next time I need a 3/8" mortise.

Maybe I should have entitled this post "A Tale of Three Chisels".

Friday, July 28, 2017

Plant Stands, Part 2 - Shaping and Completion

With the structure complete from Part 1 of this project, I could shape the parts.  The legs would get a chamfer on the outside corners, as well as some shaping at the feet.  All rails would get a decorative bead at the lower edge.

I had never done stopped chamfers before.  The chamfers would start about 1" up from the bottom and end about 2 1/2" from the top.   I made a small knife line 1/2" from these starting points and penciled in the shape to be removed.
Chamfer laid out
Then I made a stop cut with a saw at the knifed line.
Sawed a small kerf as a stop cut
Removed bulk of waste with a chisel
Then smoothed with a spokeshave and a no. 4 smoother
Got right up to the stop cut with a shoulder plane that has a removable toe
On other legs I simply used a chisel to clean up the ends of the flat part.  Then it was a fairly easy matter to chisel the curved lead-in to the chamfer.
Chiseling the curved lead-in until the curve meets the flat part seamlessly
I didn't get a pic in progress, but here's a pic from the finished project.
Very happy with this transition
And a more straight-on view
After that, I put a bead at the bottom of each rail.  I really love using the beading planes that I recently restored.
Bead on one of the short rails
One thing about putting beads on the rails - somehow it always seems the grain is not in your favor.  You can see in the next picture how I lost a little chunk of the bead at the left end.  Sometimes I wonder if I should cut the beads before forming the tenons.  That way, I would cut off any torn chunks that happen at the end.  Would love to hear comments from anybody with experience on this.
Planing goes from right to left, but see how the grain is diving?
One thing I did to make sure I didn't get any tear-out at the quirk was to make a deep gauge line at the extent of the quirk before using the beader.
A close view of the gauge line
This made sure that I got a good, crisp quirk at the surface of the rail.
Arrow points to the crisp edge I'm talking about
With the rail beads done, I next had to put a bead on the stretcher.  This was a real challenge because the stretcher has a concave curve on it's bottom edge.
Lower stretcher has a concave bottom edge.
Bead was made using a scratch stock.
I used a scratch stock, for which I made a cutter to match the size of bead that I had cut on all the rails.  I didn't get any action photos, but here's the scratch stock.  It's easy to make the cutter - just takes a few minutes to file out the unwanted metal.
The scratch stock
Close-up of the cutter
I was surprised how fast it cut the bead in the curved lower aspect of the stretcher.  One feature of this scratch stock that helps in this regard is that the fence is curved.  This allows it to stay tight along the curved edge of the stretcher.

After all shaping was done, I focused on the top.  I planed a bullnose shape on all edges of each board.  To line up the top slats for installation, I turned the undercarriage upside down on the bench and got creative with a holdfast to clamp things in place.
Top slats being marked for location and screw holes
I had made some pocket screw holes in the upper rails before gluing the carcase together.  You can see one in the short rail in the above picture.

For finishing, I first applied three coats of shellac, sanding after each coat had dried.  Then, to give the plant stands greater resistance to the effects of rain (and sun?), I applied a few coats of polyurethane.

And here they are in service outside the kitchen windows.
My wife thought I'd just slap something together with screws to get this project done quickly. But hey, I'm a woodworker.  The mortising is good practice and I learned a few new things along the way. Everybody wins!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Trees Are Amazing

A few weeks ago, we visited Russian Gulch State Park near Mendocino, CA.  We hiked a trail that eventually led to a 36 foot waterfall.
The falls in Russian Gulch S.P.
We love waterfalls.  And while the fall was nice, there were other things that really struck me during the walk.
Redwood growing on redwood stump
There were lots of redwood trees in the park.  This one was growing right on top of, and out of, a stump of an old deceased redwood.  This was really amazing.  The roots of the smaller tree were wrapped around the stump.  The older redwood was probably logged a century ago, so the younger one is likely about that old.
Another view - look at those roots reaching for the ground!
For scale, the stump was probably about 5 feet in diameter, the smaller tree about 1.5 to 2 feet diameter.

Redwoods have at least two methods of procreating.  While these trees grow to incredibly large sizes, their cones are small, not much larger than the coins in your pocket.  Seeds from these cones will germinate under the right conditions.

I've also seen downed redwoods with new trees growing directly from the horizontal stem.  I'm not a tree scientist, but I'm sure there's a word for this type of new tree growth.  I don't know whether or not other trees will do this.

Another seemingly mundane thing caught my interest during our hike.  A tree that had fallen across the path had been cut with a chainsaw.  Look where the moss is growing on this cross-section of tree.
Moss growing one the sapwood, but not the heartwood
The sapwood carries water and nutrients to the upper reaches of a tree.  It is alive and active.  The heartwood (as I understand it) is dead and provides structure for the tree to grow taller.  The moss is only growing on the portion of the tree (the sapwood) that was more recently alive.

I love the patterns that can be seen in nature.  Trees are amazing!