Working with Wood

This is my year of woodworking and this post is a status report. It’s been a couple months, things are going well and I’m still very interested in continuing. I don’t necessarily engage in woodworking on a daily basis, perhaps because I don’t have that many interesting project ideas. I had the same problem with computer-programming — I couldn’t find anything interesting to make within my skill/patience level. And for woodworking, I need to stay within a tiny budget and keep the projects on the small-side.

My primary hobby right before this was philosophizing and transcribing my thoughts into this blog. It turns out I can’t fully escape that path. I’ve been filling the quietude of woodworking with podcasts, usually spirituality-based ones. Funny enough, I can’t otherwise listen to such things — but by having part of my attention focused on woodworking and my hands busy, I can listen to someone drone on for a couple hours, easy.

My most recent projects are a couple of small boxes and a magic-wand with scrap-wood stand. I’ve tried a few spells such as Expelliarmus and Expecto Patronum but no luck so far. I mainly used my Morakniv whittling knife to carve the wand out of a 16″ long 5/8″ poplar square (I also used my Shinto Saw Rasp for some material removal). And just to note, I’ve been coloring most projects with an easy-cleanup water-based wipe-on stain, either Pecan (light) or Walnut (dark). The shiny box has a polyurethane coat as well (the soap & water cleanup kind).

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Cool Tools Ep. 1, Drill-bits

Bosch Quick-Change

Ever since I saw Norm Abram from The New Yankee Workshop using a quick-change drill-bit adapter on his drill many years ago, I knew I needed one. And now, I finally have one — this Bosch is it. I also have a Kobalt Quick-Change set I got at Lowes a couple weeks ago and it sucks in comparison to the Bosch. The bits go right in without any finagling, it’s truly a one-handed operation.

 

Dewalt Countersink Set

To go into the quick-change drill-bit adapter, I needed some drill-bits of course. For woodworking I’m mainly driving #6, #8, #10, (and sometimes #4) wood screws. These screws go in best with countersunk pilot-holes, so the ideal drill-bit performs this operation as a single step.

Previously I was using standard drill-bits that I’d tighten in my chuck, then I’d follow-up with a #2 Phillips-head screwdriver to ream out a countersink-hole for the screw head. Yes that’s right, I was twisting a screwdriver back and forth using it as a crude countersink tool every time I put in a screw. Madness!

And now with my quick-change adapter I can easily swap to a #2 Phillips bit after drilling — I can drill and screw as much as I want very quickly compared to when I had to unscrew the chuck every time to switch bits.

 

Snappy Countersink Set

The Dewalt countersink set is decent and it comes with tapered drill-bits which is a neat adaptation. I also purchased these Snappy ones because they’re not tapered and they come with a #4 wood-screw sized bit. The countersink cutters on the Snappy came dull and I had to sharpen them before they’d work effectively — they’re pretty decent now. I still kinda like the Dewalts a little better, but sometimes the top part of the taper can be a little roomy for the incoming screw.

All-in-all, these particular tools have made woodworking much more pleasurable when compared to tightening and untightening the chuck to insert various round drill bits then swapping in a Phillips bit and using a #2 screwdriver as a countersink tool. It seems I was correct in my analysis from last month: it’s not that woodworking sucked or I sucked at woodworking, I just needed more tools.

Let There Be Light

Working with electricity! I purchased a simple lamp kit over at Lowes which included a bulb-holder with switch, a threaded stem with tightening nut, and some cord. I also purchased a second bulb-holder which came with a pull-chain instead of a push-switch (I used this one, not the switch that came with the kit). I got the kit because it was my first lamp project, next time I’ll probably just buy individual parts now that I know what I’m dealing with. The wiring step is very simple, I just followed the included instructions.

This is more of a prototype project where I was experimenting with lamp construction. In this lantern-style lamp I used actual parchment paper, utilizing a little bit of wood-glue to keep it in place. The primary frame is constructed out of 3/4 inch poplar squares. The lamp is about 19 inches tall and 7 inches wide and sits nicely on my desk. I’m using an LED bulb which doesn’t give off heat — but because it’s parchment paper (which is typically used in ovens for baking), and open on the top and bottom, I don’t think an incandescent bulb would be a problem.

As a bonus, I cannibalized the old lamp that the lantern-lamp replaced and made a scrap-wood standing lamp. I pulled apart the old lamp’s bulb-holder and un-wired it, pulled the wire through, unscrewed the threaded stem — then whipped up a simple standing base with whatever wood I had laying around. I reused the old lamp’s lampshade on this one though.

Odyssey of the Wood

It was almost Christmas, my wife mentioned that she needed a bookcase to organize a basket full of loose books in the living room. I had some time and some wood laying around, so I began to build. The wood was left over from previous woodworking projects, so just a random assortment. We’re not talking 2×8 rough-cut planks here, we’re talking small 3/4″ square-dowel-like pieces for the legs mixed with some 1/4″ thick by 4″ to 6″ wide boards tying them together, and luckily I had a short 1×10 plank for actual shelves (and some dowels for the bottom).

There’s no wood-shop by the way, just the floor in my office. I usually pick-up wood at Lowes since they have an aisle full of “appearance quality” wood with various sizes to choose from.

I actually had a pretty frustrating time assembling the shelf, although I was somewhat pleased with the final product considering the limitations of materials I had to work with. I was so frustrated in fact, that I had the feeling I was DONE with woodworking after this project, that it just wasn’t for me. And, I was ready to give up on tools in general. But after the bookcase was completed, I started thinking about how things went so poorly because I didn’t have the right tools for the job.

Bookcase

Then a revelation: I didn’t need less tools, I needed MORE tools!! Of course! As someone that grew up watching This Old House, The New Yankee Workshop, The Woodwright’s Shop, and as someone that wanders tool aisles with candy-store caliber delight, I couldn’t give up on tools. And so, I resolved to make this upcoming year, a year of woodworking.

I’m still a small-project kinda guy, so no power tools beyond a cordless drill (although sometimes I even opt to use my Stanley hand-powered-drill instead). For cutting I use Japanese pull-saws — so quiet and quick. I had the idea that I should bootstrap my woodworking by selling completed pieces on Etsy in order to pay for more tools and wood. But since it was Christmas, I received some cash-presents from family and used that instead. I still have to commercialize in some form to keep it rolling, I think — well we’ll see.

I’m writing right now because I’m waiting for some tools to arrive today. This is my latest piece, a shelf.

Shelf

O Christmas Tree

Starting with a piece of 2 1/2 inch wide by 3/4 inch thick wood, I sawed out a basic triangle and a trunk. Then the whittlin’ began, just hackin’ away until a pine tree appeared. A rasp and file helped too. The saw was also used to trim out some outer branches. And once the woodworking was done, paint was applied. A couple different greens for shading and a couple browns too. Finally, a bit of white paint was added for a touch of snow.

A small amount of work for a decorative little item, standing at 3 1/2 inches tall. And as a bonus, the organic nature of the subject-matter makes mistakes of little concern.

Christmas Pyramid

My wife was at HomeGoods the other day and sent me a picture of a candle-powered spinny thing. I thought it was neat and wanted to see if I could create such a thing myself. According to my research, it’s actually called a Christmas Pyramid.

After a failed first attempt, I added more fins, shortened the spindle, and turned up the heat, using a total of 8 candles — and voila, it actually spun! Here’s a gif of the spinning action and a video’s included at the end.

Christmas Pyramid
Christmas Pyramid Prototype

This is only a prototype and includes no adornments. To go from here, I’d widen the spindle support structure and add a wheel-shape to the bottom, on which I’d place decorative figurines. We’ll see if that actually happens though.

The fins were formed from a thin basswood left over from a craft project. They’re attached with custom-carved holders that are inserted into a custom-carved octagon-shaped spindle-topper. The spindle itself is a pointed oak dowel that turns with suprisingly little friction within its wood-based support.

Tool usage primarily entailed measuring, sawing, chiseling, whittling, drilling, filing, and sanding. It was a pretty tedious process making the 8 fins and their associated tinker-toy style holders. But that style of holder does allow me to rotate the fins to whatever angle-of-attack I want.

It was only a couple of days in the shop to make and a pretty neat accomplishment. When I saw it just sitting still with 4 candles I was a bit disappointed, I even raised them to the point of slightly burning some of the wood — but then with the addition of 4 more candles — Ha! The thrill of victory!