Starrett C183 Steel Protractor

Starrett C183 Steel Protractor

Starrett C183 Steel Protractor Starrett C183 Steel Protractor
$75.25 In stock
Starrett C183 Steel Protractor with Rectangular Base Buy Now

When I built my trestle table I needed a protractor. After a night of deliberation I settled on the Starrett C183 Steel Protractor.

I’ve been a cheapskate with measuring tools in the past.  I’ve got an angle gauge that changes measurements if a mouse farts in its direction. I have a combination square that spends most of its time on the floor, in pieces. My shop time is almost non-existent.  I’d rather spend my time building than working around the quirks of the tools I depend on to get things done.

So I decided to treat myself.

The Value of the Starrett C183 Steel Protractor

Let’s talk about cost. But we also need to talk about value.

The Starrett C183 Steel Protractor is not cheap and buying it was not an easy decision. I stared at the screen for hours before I clicked Add to Cart.  There are lots of protractors on the market and a massive range of prices, and fortunately, they all have lots of reviews to investigate.  Some reviews were fine. But there were just too many bad reviews to ignore. Customers complained that other ($10 range) metal protractors were flimsy.  Some complained that they did not hold their settling (loose or inferior lock nut). And others mentioned that they went through several of them and different tools of the same model had differences in their markings.

My goal is never to buy another protractor.  I’ve only owned my Starrett a few months but barring a fire or massive screw-up, I don’t see that being a problem.

Durability

One major concern about cheaper protractors was how many reviews mentioned flimsiness. They alleged that they could be easily bent, and my tools are no stranger to being knocked to the floor. So that’s a problem.

The Starrett C183 feels durable, heavy (for a protractor), and machined from high-quality steel.  The head doesn’t bend at all.  The blade curves slightly and springs back to where it should be.  Permanently altering the shape of either piece would take considerable effort or a major accident. I doubt that everyday wear-and-tear will bend your Starrett.

Fit and Finish

A common problem with angle gauges and protractors is an inadequate locking mechanism.  The lock nut on the Starrett C183 doesn’t look all that impressive.  But it’s effectiveness and simplicity will leave you feeling like you made the right decision. It takes just a few twists to tighten or loosen the nut. And once it’s tight, the blade isn’t going anywhere.  My biggest complaint about the handful of modern and vintage angle gauges I have in my shop is the flimsy lock. Up until this purchase, I thought hundreds of years of tool evolution had still failed to improve on this mechanism. I was wrong.

The accuracy of the gauge isn’t something I can speak to because I have no base for comparison. But so far my results have been precise, so I trust it.

Conclusion

Was $75 a lot to spend on a tool they used to hand out free in middle-school geometry?  Sure.  I can’t say with certainty that this tool is worth the price. Only time will tell.  But it’s a pleasure to use and beats the competition in every metric I can test. I wouldn’t hesitate to buy it again.

 

Dewalt DW735 Planer

Dewalt DW735 Planer

Dewalt DW735 Two-Speed Thickness Planer Dewalt DW735 Two-Speed Thickness Planer
$649 In stock
13 Buy Now

It’s terrific to know how to dress lumber to be flat and square using hand tools, but damn is it a pain. And limiting yourself to dimensional lumber is expensive and confines your creativity. I like the flexibility that owning a planer affords me: I can source wood from a lumber yard, reclaimed barn wood, or a fallen apple tree. So it wasn’t far into my woodworking journey that I picked up my first planer. Which shot half a blade out the back and nearly killed me.  And then, like so many new woodworkers, I picked up a Dewalt DW735 Planer at Lowes.

Dewalt DW735 Pricing

The Dewalt DW735 belongs to a class of tools called lunchbox planers.  It’s compact and reasonably portable. It’s meant to satisfy a hobbyist’s needs as opposed to a professional woodworking shop.  Lunchbox planers are plentiful and usually priced between $200-$600. The DW735 is at the higher-end of the price range: as of the time of writing this post, the DW735 is priced around $600. But pretty much every power tool manufacturer has some version of the lunchbox planer on the market including Porter Cable, Grizzly, Rikon, Makita, Delta, and Triton.

If the DW735 worth the price?  Unfortunately I haven’t had the opportunity to compare it in action to other lunchbox planers.  However the DW735 does come with extras that others don’t provide.  The $600 package comes with extra knives and infeed and outfeed tables. It’s also got an extra inch on most of it’s competitors, with it’s girthy 13″ bed.

Dewalt DW735 Planer Performance and Features

If you search the Internet for reviews of the Dewalt DW735 planer, much of what you read will sound like somebody is fishing for a Dewalt sponsorship.  The buzz around it is a bit too circle-jerky for my liking.  So even though I own and appreciate the DW735 I’ll do my best to be honest.

At first the DW735 was underwhelming. But after some fine-tuning and an upgrade, I’m very happy with it.

The Blades

The DW735’s cutter has three blades. Most lunchbox planers come with two, so this is a point in it’s favor. This means that each blade has to remove less material per-rotation than in a two-blade configuration, resulting in cleaner cuts and less strain on the machine. Unfortunately the factory blades dull quickly, and you’ll soon find yourself shelling out the extra $150 for a set of 3 carbide-tipped blades.

My DW735’s still didn’t perform well after upgrading the blades. The built-in breaker would trip while removing more than 1/64 at a time, even in white pine. And planing stock even remotely close to the 13″ width was a laughable notion. I nearly threw in the towel completely, until I discovered the helical cutter heads.

The best advice I can offer to owners of the DW735 or to prospective buyers is this: save your money. Instead of replacing the blades on the DW735 invest in a Shelix Byrd helical cutter head.  Shelix cutter headers are spiral-shaped and covered with dozens of tiny, square blades. This design is better for a number of reasons, but the one I care about the most is performance. The spiral shape means less of the cutter is in contact with the wood at any one time, which means less strain and cleaner cuts. Also, replacing any of the tiny blades is just a few bucks, as opposed to $150 for a new set up 13″ carbide-tipped blades.

Should you be thrilled about shelling out another $450 after you already paid a premium for the DW735? Probably not. But a helical cutter head is a worth investment for any planer or jointer, and it’s the upgrade that made me fall in love with my DW735.

Cut Quality

The Dewalt DW735 makes a nice clean cut, so as the knives are clean and sharp, and you don’t try to take more aggressive a cut that it can handle in a single pass. The DW735 also offers two different feed rates. You’ll use the quicker feed rate for most work.  You can get a cleaner, smoother, final pass by switching to the slower feed rate. A slower feed rate means that the blades contact the wood more often, taking less material in each pass and leaving a smoother surface.

The Build-in Breaker

For a while I was trying to use my DW735 on a 15 amp circuit which also ran lights and a radio.  I ended up making a lot of trips to the breaker box.  I upgraded to a 20 amp circuit and soon things were buzzing along.  My DW735 still gets overwhelmed and trips (for example while planing a 2 x 12 earlier today), but now it trips the breaker built into the unit.  Wait a few seconds, push the reset button, and you’re back in business.

Dust Collection

 

The DW735 is one of few Dewalt tools that I feel gets dust collection right. It sports a 4″ dust collector port on the back. The planer has a built in fan that helps rapidly eject shavings. It’s so efficient, in fact, that I don’t even have to run my dust collector. The fan pushes chips back into the dust collector bag on it’s own.

Infeed and Outfeed Tables

The DW735 comes with infeed and outfeed tables.  Don’t hesitate to adjust them if you have an issue with snipe. Keep them cleaned and occasionally waxed to make material feed as easily as possible.

Snipe

When a tool takes a more aggressive cut at the beginning or the end of a work piece than it does in the middle, we call that snipe. Snipe occurs because the workpiece doesn’t have uniform support, because the roller bar at the front forces the workpiece up into the cutterhead until it passes it and comes into contact with the second roller. Likewise snipe can occur at the end of the work piece after it loses contact with the first roller.

I’ve fought snipe from day 1 with my Dewalt 735.  As I said: don’t hesitate to adjust the infeed and outfeed table.  Adjusting them to a higher angle can reduce or eliminate snipe.  Feed work pieces end or next to each other in order to support each other as they pass through the blade and rollers.  Use sacrificial scrap at the beginning and end of your passes to transfer the snipe to junk wood. If none of that works, consider building a planer sled.

Maintenance

The DW735 will require some maintenance. You’ll want to keep it clean, and you’ll want to periodically clean or flip the blades. The top cover of the planer is easily removed.  So is the plastic airflow component that directs ships from the cutter head to the dust collection port. Once these plastic parts are removed, you’ve got direct overhead access to the blade.  The blades are easily removed using the included star-head tool that tucks into the top cover when it’s not being used.

Summary: Recommended, with Conditions

I like my Dewalt DW735 planer. It’s gotten me through some of my favorite projects, including planing three beefy sections of douglas fir for my Roubo benchtop.  But I didn’t always feel that way about it.  The stock DW735 felt underpowered to me. It wasn’t until I upgraded the planer with a Shelix Byrd helical cutter head that I really felt like the DW735 was a quality tool.  So while I reocmmend the Dewalt DW735 for a hobbyist workship, I also recommend upgrading the cutter as soon as you can afford to do so!

Lie Nielson Low Angle Jack Plane

Lie Nielson Low Angle Jack Plane

Lie Nielson Low Angle Jack Plane Lie Nielson Low Angle Jack Plane
$ 245.00 In stock Updated August 21, 2018 at 1:51 PM
Low Angle Jack Plane by Lie Nielson Toolworks Buy Now

There’s just something about using a well-made and well-tuned hand plane.  The tactile feedback. Those whisper-thin shavings. Oh… you don’t know what I’m talking about?  The only hand planes you’ve used are turd hand-me-downs that tire you out and marr your work? I’ve been there. And the Lie Nielson Low Angle Jack Plane changed the way I felt about hand planes.

I was a jaded and frustrated when it came to hand planes and hand tool & hybrid woodworking in general. Hand tools remained a mystery to me.

When I tried Lie Nielson’s low angle jack the secret was revealed: my tools were garbage and I didn’t know how to make them not-garbage. The very concept of a hand plane is inspiring in it’s simplicity: a chisel locked in a flat bed which hogs away material or take delicate, gossamer-thin shavings.  Like everything Lie Nielson does, they distilled and perfected the jack plane form.

Here’s my advice to you: make your first hand plane a good one. Experience how a plane should work first. Then you’ll have a better frame of reference to judge whether a plane, new or used, is quality or junk.

You can’t go wrong with making the Lie Nielson Low Angle Jack plane the first hand plane in your tool chest.

Side Profile of Lie Nielson Low Angle Jack Plane

Side Profile of Lie Nielson Low Angle Jack Plane

How I Discovered the Lie Nielson Low Angle Jack

I owned several planes before the Lie Nielson Low Angle Jack.  Of course I had several knock-offs of the quintessential Stanley 4 1/2 Smoothing Plane. I also own a Stanley Block Plane, and an old Stanley #2 Transitional Jointer that I restored and improved with a new blade from Veritas. All but the restored jointer were basically pointy, work-gouging garbage.

Back in June 2015 the wife and I were in the neighborhood of Lie Nielson’s facility and I couldn’t miss the opportunity to try them out.  Lie Nielson’s small show room is setup with work benches and tools inviting you to test their quality and craftsmanship. From the moment I stuck a scrap in a leg vice and attacked it with the jack plane, it won me over. In fact attack it the wrong word. It was a delicate caress that extracted a gossimar-thin shaving the likes of which I had only seen in one of those Japanese hand plane porn videos.

This plane is visible in about every other article in Popular Woodworking. So it’s not like I’m passing on some great secret. But the Lie Nielson Low Angle Jack is a terrific tool, worth all the pennies they charge and then some.

Tool Quality and Workmanship

Unlike some lower-cost planes a Lie Nielson is ready out of the box. They tell you to sharpen the iron, but if I’m being honest the factory grind on the plane iron was better than anything I had ever experienced. The sole is flat. The depth adjuster is solid but easy to manipulate. The front knob turns and loosens the shoe which allows for mouth adjustments.  This is one adjustment that you can’t appreciate until you use it. The narrower the mouth, the less tear-out you’ll experience.

Having known nothing but knock-offs and dirty hand-me-downs, the fit and finish of the Lie Nielson Low Angle Jack is immediately impressive.

Each detail feels tight and polished. The adjustments don’t just give out as you work. All the knobs and screws are tight, with none of the looseness or wobble you might experience in an inferior plane. All adjustments are incredibly easy to make.

One other thing I love–and I suppose it’s one of the qualities that makes a jack a jack–is the weight.  The low angle jack plane is hefty enough that the size and weight of the plane really improves the cut and helps to keep the tool against the work piece. But it’s not so heavy as to kick your ass as you use it.

Top View of the Lie Nielson Low Angle Jack Plane

Top View of the Lie Nielson Low Angle Jack Plane

Results

Like I said: my base for comparison was a cabinet full of trash planes. When I used the Lie Nielson Low Angle Jack for the first time in their show room, I finally understood the magic of a well-tuned hand plane.

When I received mine in the mail about a week later, it did not disappoint. Even though I didn’t bother to sharpen the blade it immediately cut better than any other plane that I owned. The jack does just as well at taking aggressive cross-grain passes as with a scrub plane as it does taking whisper-thin shaving when setup and used as a finishing tool.  I’ve used the Lie Nielson Low Angle Jack to plane to chamfer end grain too. It works just fine, but the size does make it a little bit awkward for this sort of work.

Results over Time

Over time the front knob has gotten difficult to turn.  I think I can attribute this to the fact that I don’t store my planes safely. While they’re not directly exposed to the elements, my workshop is an uninsulated, non climate-controlled shed. And as often as I use this tool, it’s usually sitting on my workbench. There’s every chance the mechanism took on some moister or something.  After I put some effort into loosening it once, it’s pretty good again for a while.

Accessories

Lie Nielson sells a bunch of additional blades and accessories for the Low Angle Jack Plane, which can offer you more bang for the buck. They offer a toothed blade for aggressive stock removal.  They offer a scraping blade.  Various sources suggest buying multiple blades and grinding them to different angles for different uses.  I haven’t done any of this and I can’t speak to the efficacy of different blades or bevel angles on this tool, but they are available. I’m particularly curious about the scraping blade, as I don’t own a good scraper right now.

Plane Iron for Lie Nielson Low Angle Jack Plane

The plane iron for Lie Nielson Low Angle Jack Plane. The fact that the iron has a slot that captures the depth adjustment unfortunately means that you can’t slip in any old plane iron.

Summary: I Would Buy This Plane Every Damned Time

I’m not being overly hyperbolic when I say the Lie Nielson Jack Plane changed the way I think about hand tools. Before I bought one hand planes felt mysterious. Every time I touched one I gouged my work and felt as if there was some secret that actual woodworkers weren’t telling me.

Nope. Turns out my tools just sucked, or weren’t properly tuned.

Putting my hands on a Lie Nielson Low Angle Jack Plane gave me a good frame of reference for hand plane quality and has actually helped me to tune those old hand planes to a state of functionality, if not the state of workshop nirvana that I reach each time I use the low angle jack.  I actually find myself turning to my low angle jack to do tasks that could be performed quicker with a router, because it’s so pleasant to use.

Given the chance I would buy this tool over-and-over again.  I can’t recommend it enough.

A top-down view of the secret compartment book with pop-our compartment.

Postmortem Analysis: Making the Most of Mistakes

A great man once said,

Dude… sucking at something is the first step toward being sort of good at something. – Jake the Dog, AdventureTime

I live by this philosophy. As a maker, the excitement of creating something I’ve never made before is what drives me. But how often do any of us get something right on the first try?

Not very often.

Sometimes I take commissions to make something completely unique for a client. In these cases I’ll only build that thing one time, and this can pose a real challenge. When you’re making a one-off creation you may not have the chance to build new skills or fix design flaws through repetition. And lets face it: mistakes happen.

I locked horns with this challenge during the month of December.

A client commissioned a secret compartment book as a bespoke Christmas gift for a friend.  He had a specific vision. I had a head full of ideas to step up both the quality and awesomeness factor by integrating some woodwork and spring-loaded hardware.  I had limited time to complete it and no room for error. It would either ship on time and perfect, or not at all.

The end result was a Picasso interpretation of the vision I had in my head. The workmanship was rushed and sloppy, and it turns out the end result wasn’t quite what the client described in our conversations.

Cool concept.  Poor execution. But I’m not one to get discouraged.

In order to get from sucking at something to being kind of good at something you need to take time to reflect on what went wrong. This is called a postmortem analysis and that’s precicely what I’ll be doing in the remainder of this blog post.

The term post-mortem is latin for “after death”, and originally referred to a medical examination of a corpse to determine the cause of death. The term has, more colloquially come to refer to any “after the fact” analysis and discussion of a recently completed process or event, to see what lessons we can learn from it. – Mark Kampe, Pomona College

This process can be as formal or relaxed as you want. The important part is that you take the time to review your process and it’s output objectively in order to figure out what you did right, what you did wrong, and what you can change to maximize your chances of success in the future.

A Postmortem Analysis of my Secret Compartment Book 2.0

A top-down view of the secret compartment book with pop-our compartment.

A top-down view of the secret compartment book with pop-our compartment.

Accepting an Unrealistic Deadline

Some people thrive on the artificial pressure that deadlines inspire.  I’m one of those people. After all, constraints can drive creativity. But accepting a deadline you know to be impossible is a terrific way to set yourself up for failure.

The Problem: I Accepted a Deadline I Knew Would be Hard to Meet

The client ordered this secret compartment book as a Christmas gift on December 1. This meant that I had to ship to California in time for the holidays. This gave me four weeks to plan, order parts, and complete the book.

On December 3 we had a baby.

This project was setup to fail from the beginning.  RC Creative is not my full time job.  In fact the time that I scrape together to be a maker is largely time robbed from my web development business or family. Furthermore, this project was accepted two days before our daughter was born. By the time the raw materials arrived I was already running out of time to build this project. I did very little planning and rushed the actual construction.

The Result: Poor Quality, Failure to Meet Client Expectations

Accepting the deadline for this project during the first three weeks of my newborn’s life was a poor choice.  This decision resulted in an end product that didn’t meet my quality expectations. Even though I had gone through a brief process of sending sketches and getting approval from the customer, the end result was actually not the design he expected. I wasn’t satisfied enough with my work to let the customer give me money.

Solution: Work with Clients to Set Realistic Goals

I had two facts at my disposal which should have been enough information to turn down or revise this commission:

  • I had a newborn daughter to adjust to and care for
  • Christmas was four weeks away and I didn’t have a plan or materials.

I was excited to build something new, and in that excitement I never bothered to ask if I could deliver the project after Christmas. As it turns out, that would not have been a problem. Sometimes aggressive deadlines can make miracles happen.  Sometimes they sink a project before it leaves the port. This situation was the latter.

In the future, I plan to factor in the realities of my work and family schedule. I will not accept a commission with a short deadline that I could fail to meet given the slightest setback.  I will work with customers to adjust expectations in order to set myself up for success before I pick up my tools.

Poor Communication

This project was essentially an email inspired from one of my YouTube videos, and a follow-up napkin sketch.  More planning was necessary.

The Problem: Poor Communication with the Client

Even though the client and I talked several times throughout the project, we failed to have the same vision for the end product. As a result, we were aiming for different goals.

The client described what he wanted in specific detail. He wanted a secret compartment book specifically designed to hold a Samsung Galaxy S7 phone. I should use a softcover book, preferably a law book, that’s thick enough that you could leave pages loose at the front and back to give the appearance of a normal book upon very casual inspection. He wanted the compartment as close to the spine as possible.

I drew what he described and sent him the sketch.  He approved. Unfortunately there were critical details I either failed to document in the sketch or he failed to point out as being contrary to his needs.

The Result: I Built the Wrong Thing

In the end I built what I thought the customer wanted. Or maybe I even built what I thought the customer should want. My interpretation of his description missed the mark enough to cause problems. I had actually designed the compartment perpendicular to what the client had envisioned.

The Solution: Better Communication, Better Illustrations

We talked on the phone several times but words were insufficient. It’s ridiculous that we relied on them so heavily when the client had contacted me by email in the first place. I sent the client a very rough sketch of my plan in a text message.  While I thought it was sufficient to capture what my interpretation of his description, he was unable to point out any discrepancies. I should have asked for specific feedback. I should have made a more formal, more detailed illustration that showed actual dimensions, and was more clear on the orientation of all of the components.

What would have been great is to let him sketch what it was that he wanted that we were unable to describe to each other in words.

An important part of this postmortem analysis was to figure out why the compartment binds up when you slide in the wallet, and how to avoide it in the future.

An important part of this postmortem analysis was to figure out why the compartment binds up when you slide in the wallet, and how to avoide it in the future.

Failure to Plan

Given that I had already accepted a deadline I was unlikely to meet, I neglected to take steps between napkin sketch and putting tools to material that might have helped us discover flaws in the plan ahead of time.

The Problem: Failing to Plan Failed to Illuminate Avoidable Problems

I already pointed out that the client’s request was very specified. It sounds like the client did all the planning for me, right? He knew what he wanted. That much is a given. Unfortunately some of the specific details he hoped for me to achieve were what led to problems later.

Unfortunately I didn’t have the time or the spare materials to practice or test any of the design details before building the final product.

The Results: Poor Workmanship, Less than Perfect Functionality.

Because I didn’t test the design and ideas that the client and I had agreed upon before I started building the project, it resulted in a few errors in craftsmanship that could have been avoided.

Carving out so much space in the center of a softcover book leaves the remaining material feeling flaccid. After I build the wallet and installed it in the compartment, I discovered there was so much flexibility in the remaining pages that they would droop down and act as a barrier to the graceful ejection of the wallet from the compartment.

When I cut the pages of the book (an activity that’s both destructive and non-reversible) I used a tool I designed specifically to cut through books quickly. Unfortunately during the cut the pages “splayed-out” as I plunged the tool, resulting in an angled cut with too much material removed towards the bottom. The result is a very ugly and noticeable gap in the ends of the pages where the wallet slides into the book.  This was the most important detail of the project to get right, poor planning and rushing resulted in getting it very wrong.

The Solution: Plan Ahead, Make a Prototype, Think Through Destructive Operations, Use Delicate Tools for Delicate Work

Obviously, more planning was required. Having extra time and materials available to make a prototype first would had led to the discovery of the design decisions that made this project fail.  Besides, if the prototype had been successful, it would have been sellable too.

My worst failure in building this secret compartment book was in the way that I cut the pages. I love my book-cutting tool and I’ll continue to use it in the future for simpler projects. But the hidden compartment in this version extends to the end of the page. This means the cut is visible, and needs to be straight and exact to minimize visibility. This project called for finesse and patience that I just didn’t bring to the table this time. When you need a thin cut in paper an X-Acto Knife is always the way to go, and instead I used the crafting equivalent of a chainsaw.

Cutting out the center was the only truly destructive step in making this book. I had only one book. After cutting it apart, it could not be un-cut. Dedicating the time to cut the compartment with the more delicate tool would have been best. Using an aggressive tool often amplifies errors.

In our postmortem analysis we find that the we used the wrong tool for the job when cutting out the compartment.

In our postmortem analysis we find that the we used the wrong tool for the job when cutting out the compartment.

What I Did Right

The greatest success that I had in this project was a result of good planning. The client wanted this secret compartment book to fit a Samsung Galaxy S7. Finding the dimensions of the phone was easy, and I used those dimensions to craft a template. The phone template determined the size and shape of the wallet. The wallet determined the size and shape of the compartment. As a woodworker I understand that measuring is the enemy of accuracy. The wallet, made from veneer-thin cherry and faced with the remnants of the cut paper, is truly gorgeous and a detail I’ll be sure to repeat in the future.

The awesome phone template and finished wallet. Whoops, I forgot to clear the history!

The awesome phone template and finished wallet. Whoops, I forgot to clear the history!

Summary

This postmortem analysis resulted in a number of lessons I’ll be sure to carry with me in the future. Some were general: don’t accept deadlines you can’t realistically meet.  Plan. Make a prototype out of cheaper materials to discover design flaws before you commit them to the final product. For custom projects ensure that I’m building what the customer wants.

Other lessons were more specific.  Use fine tools for fine work.  Use hardcover books and books with thicker pages that won’t droop and affect the mechanism. Move the compartment closer to the edge of the pages rather than the spine to avoid drooping. Keep the cutting tool perpendicular to the book to ensure a straight, even cut.  I plan to build this project again, and I think I have a good game plan to move ahead and find success in the next iteration.

Handmade Gifts in the Susquehanna Valley

Handmade Gift Ideas from the Susquehanna Valley

Shop small, shop local! 2016 holiday gift ideas from the Susquehanna Valley.

The Restored and Refinished Leg Vice

Reprioritization

It turns there aren’t any laws preventing me from procreating. How about that! I’m going to be a dad in about two weeks, and that’s changed some things for me.

Over the past nine months my priorities have shifted. I was plugging away with my new web marketing business and making slow, steady progress with RC Creative when we found out my wife was pregnant (good news). At the time I was really hoping I could turn this into something serious a little sooner.  Unfortunately getting my house ready for the baby has been more important.  I’ve been working hard building projects and finishing the remodeling on the house. I’ve finished the living room, remodeled a room upstairs to replace my office which will now be our nursery, finished the dining room, and even built a kitchen with cherry cabinets and counter tops from scratch.  But getting done was more important than doing it with the camera on.

So for those of you who like my content? Sorry I’ve managed to produce nothing aside from a one-off “vlog” episode in months. Unfortunately I don’t forsee that changing right now.  As I adjust to family life I’m hoping I can incorporate the maker part of me into it.  Maybe the web work that currently pays the bills will slow down and I can get on some of the projects folks as asked me to build.  That’d be nice.  But for now my focus is on building a good life for little baby Name To Be Determined.

How to Prevent Fruit Flies in Your Worm Bins

Preventing Fruit Flies in Your Worm Bins

Well howdy, fellow worm farmers! I’ve been a worm rancher for a few years now. They’re great for fishing. They’re good for your garden. And they tear into kitchen scraps like a pack of wild hogs.  Very tiny, very numerous, wild hogs. But worm bins can develop problems.

One problem that creeps up from time-to-time in the life of a worm farmer is fruit flies. If you keep your bins outdoors flies are no big deal, but if you keep them inside they can beproblematic. Here’s how to prevent and eliminate fruit fly infestation in your work bins.

Add a digestible bedding material to the top of your bins! I like to use sawdust or shredded paper, as I have both in abundance. You can use pieces of cardboard to the same affect. What I do is fill a five-gallon bucket halfway with bedding material. Then I start adding water, and mix until the material is soft and fully saturated.  I cover the top of the bin with about a half inch of bedding material.  Fruit flies won’t dig for their food, so this layer will discourage them from making your worm farm their forever-home, laying eggs, and making your worm bins the family estate. Over time your worms will eat the bedding, turning more trash into black gold for your garden.

Bonus Tip: Already have flies in your worm bins?  Not to worry! Grab your Shop-Vac and go to town.  You can easily suck up the majority of your fruit flies by popping open the kid of your bin and sucking them up in mid-air.

Cutting Bottles with a Tile Saw

How to Cut Bottles with a Tile Saw

In a previous video I demonstrated how to cut bottles using the Kinkajou bottle cutter. The Kinkajou works well: it usually produces a nice straight cut that doesn’t require a lot of smoothing after the fact.  But I’ve stumbled across another way to cut bottles: you can cut bottles with a tile saw.

Materials

My sister gifted me a tile saw a few years ago when I was remodeling a bathroom.  It’s a cheap saw and there are many just like it on Amazon or at Harbor Freight. You can get away with one of the $70-80 models.  In addition, don’t forget to have hand and eye protection, as well as a dust mask or other breathing protection. The saw produces a lot of glass dust, and it’s probably a bad idea to suck it into your lungs!

You also need bottles. The cool thing about using a tile saw is that you’re not limited to round bottles as you are with most speciality bottle cutting tools.

There’s very little to it and no “secret techniques” to show you. If you’re making a straight cut perpendicular to the bottle you can use the saw’s fence as a guide. But I like using the tile saw because you can make angled cuts across the neck of the bottle, as well as other non-perpendicular cuts that you can’t produce with the Kinkajou.

Take your time. If you try to force the bottle through the blade it’s a recipe for disaster. Take it slow. Gently push the bottle into the blade until it fully penetrates the glass. Then rotate the bottle slowly into the blade, until there’s not much material left. Then remove the bottle and plunge into the remaining material until it’s fully separated. In my experience this is the best way to prevent the two side from splitting unevenly and leaving a jagged edge.

Is a tile saw a better or worse method than using a Kinkajou ? Well it depends. The Kinkajou makes a more reliable and smoother cut. But it’s not perfect. Sometimes your bottle will still separate with a jagged edge. In addition, the Kinkajou isn’t designed to cut through the neck, and can only make cuts perpendicular to the length of the bottle. The Kinkajou also requires a time-intensive process of scoring the bottle, and then separating it using hot and cold water.

Cutting bottles with a tile saw is much faster. You can completely cut a bottle in about a minute. You have more flexibility in the cuts you can make. The downside is that your bottles are more likely to break unevenly (so make sure you have extras), and you’ll spend more time sanding and polishing the finished product.

How to Make a Doweling Jig for a Bit and Brace

Today I’m responding to my first viewer email! Michael sent the following message:

PROJECT SUGGESTION: I wonder could you make cheap but effective doweling jig all the ones i see online are for use with electric drills etc. Could you come up with one that I can use with a BIT/BRACE? as you need two hands to use the brace. It would need kept in place somehow? without the need for clamps.

Well Michael, I can try. If I understand the problem, Michael doesn’t think he can use a standard doweling jig with a bit and brace because you need to hold the drill and the jig, and a bit and brace requires both hands to use. Clamping the jig is an option, but the clamp can interfere with rotation of the brace. I think we can come up with a solution, But first, some terminology!

What Is Doweling?

Doweling is a woodworking technique that joins two boards without a lot of skill or expensive tools. You drill matching holes in the mating pieces, and then glue pieces of dowel rod or dowel pins into the holes to connect them.  Doweling is a low-tech way of producing a loose tenon similar to systems like the Festool Domino. Unlike the Domino and its massive price tag, all you need to carry out doweling joinery is some dowel rod, a drill, and a drill bit that matches the size of your dowel.

An image of dowel pins being used to attach shelves to their case.

Some random craftsman uses dowel pins to attach some Walmart-quality shelves.

What is a Doweling Jig?

A doweling jig is a tool that keeps your drill bit perpendicular to the work piece. Doweling is difficult without one: even a small error in your drilling angle can ruin the fit of your joint. Use a doweling jig to keep your drill at 90 degrees to the wood and a uniform distance from the edge.

Using a Doweling Jig with a Bit and Brace

Michael’s difficulty with using a doweling jig with a bit and brace stems from the fact that a brace requires two hands for operation, and so you can’t use one to secure the jig. Clamping is difficult because the clamp can interfere with the brace. Personally I have a hard time coming up with a scenario where I can’t clamp the jig in such a way that the clamp doesn’t interfere with the brace. As long as the long end of the brace is below the work, I don’t see a problem.

But Michael asked, so I delivered.

I first experimented with how the doweling jig that I own worked with a bit and brace.  It has a built-in clamp and it’s profile didn’t interfere with the brace. Unfortunately the jig itself is flimsy and inaccurate. The guide is plastic and wobbly. If you’re not holding your brace at 90 degrees, the guide conforms to your angle and not the other way around. That defeats the purpose of using a jig, so I ended up throwing it out.

Make a Doweling Jig for a Bit and Brace

I started sketching ideas on the whiteboard.  Michael specifically asked for a jig that didn’t require clamping.  As I started designing I realized something. I was drawing the doweling jig I had just thrown out. I liked some features of that jig: it had a low profile and integral clamp. But a home-brew version would be complicated to build and just as useless as the original. I tossed that idea and started from a clean slate.

There was no way of getting around a clamp’s necessity. Making a clamp part of the solution felt like over-engineering. A jig with a lot of surface area to use a quick clamp solves that problem.

I tossed a couple of scraps together with pocket screws. The base of the jig is about a foot long which leaves clamping space away from the brace.  The guide itself is an “F” shaped structure. Your bit must pass through two guides to drill through the work piece. The guides keep the bit straight. I marked the center points on all sides of the jig so it’s easy to align the holes.

A Postmortem Look at My Doweling Jig

Is my doweling jig functional?  Sure.  It it big and ugly and totally unnecessary? You betcha. It’s massive, and awkward, and solves a very specific problem I’ll never run into (I get no joy from using a brace). At the very least I hope I’ve solved Michael’s problem, provided some direction towards a solution.

For me the best solution is to buy a doweling jig. A quick search of Amazon returns pages of high-quality and affordable solutions. Many doweling jigs are self-centering and have a clamp integrated into them. See a highly rated jig without a built-in clamp? You can still secure it with a quick clamp from below as to not interfere with your brace. If you’re unsure, ask a question on Amazon and see if owners of the doweling jig have the answer.

So at the end of the day I have to say, sorry Michael! While I didn’t fail to deliver, I think there are better (and fairly cheap) solutions available.

Exercise Matts

On the latest episode of Wood Talk the guys were discussing using exercise mats positioned  in front of their power tools to prevent back pain.  It inevitably turned into a play on words involving Matt Cremona and Matt Vanderlist, and the hosts asked for someone to photoshop “Exercise Matts.” Ask, and ye shall receive!
exersize matts