Even though the point of this blog is to learn to make your own stuff, there is some “stuff” that helps get you closer to that goal.  I love to review the products that enhance my life as a do it yourself enthusiast.

Grizzly G0715P Table Saw Review and Setup

 

My last table saw was a Hitachi C10FL table saw that I bought from a contractor that went out of business. It seemed like it would be a great upgrade from my Dewalt contractor saw, but it ended up being trash that was made only marginally better by an aftermarket fence. So I made the plunge and decided to purchase a new table saw. Several local woodworkers recommended the Grizzly G0715P table saw including my friend Brian who’s a professional carpenter and hobbyist woodworker, as well as my friend Ken at Topnotch Woodworks.

Grizzly G0715P Table Saw Setup

The G0715P arrives on a pallet and weighs over 400 pounds. Do yourself a favor and pay lift service from the freight company. The cabinet is bolted to the pallet. You’ll have to reach underneath the pallet and use the provided allen wrenches to remove the bolts.

Installing the Cast Iron Wings

The Grizzly G0715P table saw has two cast iron wings that connect to the saw with 6 bolts that install using the provided allen wrenches. Before installing the wings inspect the edges for dirt, burs, and bumps, and file away anything you find that might affect the alignment of the wings. The wings are heavy. You’ll want a helping hand, or a fixture that you can rest the weight of the cast iron wings on while you install the bolts. Use a level to verify the flatness of the installation at the front and the back. It can also help to have a flashlight handy. If you can see light between the bottom of the level and the table top, you need to readjust. Take your time to make sure your wings are installed dead flat from corner to corner.

Installing the Rails

The next step is to install the front and back rails. The rails connect to the tabletop with nuts and bolts that are tightened using the provided set of allen wrenches. There’s really only one way they fit together, so it’s hard to mess this step up. The most important thing to keep in mind is that the rails need to be level with the table-top. I used a combination square to measure the distance from the top of the table to the top of the rail at one corner, and then adjusted the opposite corner to match. It’s not very important that this distance be a specific measurement: only that it’s the same at both ends.

Installing The Fence

The G0715P comes with a Biesemeyer style fence that’s very similar to the Shop Fox fence I installed on my previous saw. However the G0715P’s fence has more adjustments than the Shop Fox and it’s easier to install and dial in. Drop the fence onto the front rail align it with the miter slot to the right of the blade. The fence needs to be parallel with the miter slot, so use the set screws on the back of the fence’s guide to make adjustments until the edge of the fence aligns perfectly with the miter slot.

The fence should “float” above the tabletop about 1/16″. To make this adjustment, use the vertical adjustment set screws. This allows the fence to float above any debris that would otherwise bind it up as you attempt to move it. After you make this adjustment it’s important to verify that the fence is still perpendicular to the table top. Use a square to take this measurement. If you can see light between the square and the fence it needs adjustment which is made by making slight adjustments to one of the two vertical alignment set screws.

Installing the Blade and Blade Guard

Blade installation is easy. Use the blade depth dial to raise the blade arbor to maximum height. Remove the nut that secures the blade to the arbor, slide the blade onto the arbor, and tighten the nut.

One of my favorite features of this saw is that it comes with both a blade guard and a riving knife, and swapping them is a breeze. There is a button you complete and release to lock and unlock the blade guard or riving knife which is accessed by an opening in the rear of the throat plate. Push the button in, swap in the desired guard, and release. It’s so easy to add or remove the blade guard that woodworkers might actually use it!

Optional Step: Converting to 110

My shop is depressingly under-powered which is one of the reasons I chose the G0715P.  The saw comes pre-wired for 220 but can be converted to 110 easily. The instruction manual provides the details but essentially you open the cover on the motor that hides the wiring, rotate two silver jumpers, and then close it back up. Then you need to pop open the switch box, replace a breaker, and replace the plug with one for a 20 amp socket. Just remember to order the breaker and the replacement plug ahead of time so you don’t end up waiting for parts to arrive.

Tension the Belt

Somehow I managed to miss the step. It might even be missing from the manual but I’m not entirely sure. When  first started the saw the blade “shimmied” but didn’t actually rotate. I quickly realized the belt must not be tensioned. Open up the cabinet and you’ll notice a bolt to the top left that fastens the motor to the cabinet. Pull the motor down to a point where the belt feels good and tight, and then tighten the bolt.

Grizzly G0715P Table Saw Review and First Impressions

My first impressions of my new Grizzly G0715P table saw are incredibly positive.

The fact that the saw comes with both a blade guard and riving knife and provides an easy way to switch them shows that Grizzly understands the reality of woodworking and wants to provide a convenient way to use the blade guard’s safety features when it doesn’t make a particular cut impossible.

The saw also comes with two throat plates: one for cuts with a standard or thin-kerf blade and one for making dado cuts. This might be standard for higher-end saws: I don’t know because I’ve never owned one.

The G0715P has a conveniently placed switch and safety features. The On position is recessed so it’s difficult if not impossible to turn the saw on accidentally. There is also a locking feature. You can insert a pin that prevents the power from being engaged accidentally. I really like that the switch is located at knee height, and turning the saw off is as easy as a quick bump. You don’t even have to reach down.

The rip fence is terrific. As I said it’s similar to the Shop Fox fence I installed on my last saw, but the G0715P fence provides more adjustments made with the included allen wrenches. Using a square and maybe some finger gauges it’s a breeze to get the vertical and horizontal alignment of this fence dialed in.

The vertical and angle adjustments are smooth. On many saws it takes a some effort to dial in these adjustments. The G0715P is smooth and easy to adjust. I also love the angle gauge. My previous saw didn’t have an angle gauge. Not only does the G0715P feature an integral angle gauge, it actually seems accurate.

The Grizzly G0715P is quiet. This saw is a will not offend your ear-holes in the way that others do. In fact, it actually runs quieter than my bandsaw.

The G0715P has integral dust collection. There’s a 4″ port on the side of the cabinet.

The manual provides projects to make the most of your saw. I was really impressed to see that the manual includes plans to help you make the most out of your new toy. This includes push sticks, sleds, featherboards, and more.

Upgrading a Dewalt DW735 Planer to a Shelix Cutterhead

I’m just going to put it out there: out of the box my Dewalt DW735 was a huge disappointment, and it continued to disappoint me through two years, hundreds of board feet of stock, and multiple blade replacements. I finally convinced myself to invest in a Shelix Cutterhead. This post documents the experience.

Why I Purchased the Shelix Upgrade to my DW735

From the day I bought my DW735 about 2 years ago, I was disappointed in it.  The blades that come pre-installed wear out quickly. Fortunately I knew this at the time of purchase, so I immediately picked up a pack of carbide-tipped replacement blades. The carbide blades are expensive and, while they don’t lose their edge as fast as the factory blades, their performance wasn’t much better. My DW735 fed slowly, burnt the face of my work, often stalled out and tripped breakers, and all this while taking off an absolute minimum of material.

This is what was left of one of my planer blades when I took the cover off the machine.

This is what was left of one of my planer blades when I took the cover off the machine.

Then there was the blade shrapnel incident. While hogging through a not-particularly nasty knot, about a third of one of my planer’s knives went flying. I had a replacements on-hand, but just knowing that this was a possibility put me incredibly on edge every time I fired up the machine.

About a week and a half ago I decided to start building my Roubo workbench.  The top of a Roubo workbench is made by laminating a bunch of hardwood into one beefy rectangle.  It was a joke to think my planer could handle the job as-is, so it seemed like the right time to upgrade.

Installing the Shelix Cutterhead in the DW735

I purchased the Shelix Cutterhead from Amazon and it took about four days to arrive (one day ahead of schedule). I didn’t bother recording the installation because there is already great content available.  Byrd (the manufacturer of the Shelix) provides PDF-format Shelix Installation in a DeWalt DW735 Instructions on their website. Fellow YouTuber Chris Wong recorded his entire installation in a three-part video series, the first of which is included below.

I must be some sort of planer modding savant, because the installation took me about 45 minutes,  about half the time I’ve heard from others.  The one piece of advice I have to offer is this: order snap-ring pliers when you order your Shelix. There are three snap rings that need removed and re-seated during the process, and you’ll spend more time trying to remove them without the proper tool than you will for the rest of the installation.

How the Shelix Cutterhead Performs in Practice

My DW735 with it's new Shelix cutterhead.

My DW735 with it’s new Shelix cutterhead.

After installing the Shelix I sent a piece of white pine through the planer just to verify that I hadn’t accidentally built The Mangler. No one died and the test piece came out smooth, quietly, and far faster than it would have with any of Dewalt’s blades.

I decided to do something that would have been laughable before: I started planing the top of my Roubo workbench.  I glued two pieces together, let the glue cure, then planed them.  Next I glued 4 pieces together, let it cure, then planed. Finally I glued 8 pieces together: that’s 4″ thick x 12″ wide by 96″ long. I think I actually heard the Shelix laugh at me for ever thinking this would be a problem. My work came out smooth, flat, and with no burn marks.  Using the Dewalt 13″ blades, the unit would have tripped the breaker in seconds.

Summary

Upgrading my DW735 planer to the Shelix Cutterhead made the machine a pleasure to use and allows it to produce the sort of results that I had hoped for when I bought the planer. It’s simple to install and the process is well-documented.  If you’re not satisfied with the performance of your Dewalt DW735, I highly recommend investing in a Shelix before dumping the planer for a different model.

Hybrid Woodworking

I’m a huge fan of The Wood Whisperer Mark Spagnuolo.  Mark’s videos and podcasts are top-notch, he gives great advice, and–most importantly–he has impeccable taste in silly t-shirts. Mark is one of a handful of woodworking enthusiasts that have driven the hobby into the 21st century. He’s made woodworking knowledge accessible to anyone who wants it and proven that you don’t need a Peter Follansbee beard to do it (though seriously, that beard can’t hurt).

I’ve leached The Wood Whisperer’s free content for years, so when Mark published Hybrid Woodworking buying a copy was a no-brainer.  I was finally able to sit down and read it last week from the comfort of a hammock in the Outer Banks, and now that I’m home I’d like to tell you all about it.

Hybrid Woodworking is a Philosophy

Hybrid Woodworking is first and foremost a philosophy: more specifically it’s Mark’s philosophy of how to approach the woodworking craft in a way that maximizes your time, your budget, and your enjoyment.  The Hybrid Woodworking philosophy suggests that you use the tool that performs a particular job best: power tools for jobs that require removing a ton of material or require repeatable result, and hand tools for finesse (or as Mark calls it “sneaking up on” the proper fit and finish). A hybrid woodworker would never waste a day making rough-cut lumber S4S with hand tools, nor would he  risk trying to ease the fit of a tenon on a table saw, when a shoulder plane can remove material within thousands of an inch.

But It’s Still a Book Too, Silly!

Hybrid Woodworking the book is not a comprehensive woodworking course.  It’s not going to teach you everything you need to know about the craft (for that I recommend an oldie but a goodie, Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking), but it will help you get started in a way that makes a ton of sense.

Selecting Hybrid Woodworking Tools

The first half of the book talks all about which tools you need to get started working wood in the Hybrid Woodworking system. At first I was annoyed that I actually paid for a book that told me how to buy all of the stuff that I already have, but then I experienced a Family-Guy style flashback and realized how many mistakes I made along the way while setting up shop. (Also, there was a lemur in a nun outfit for some reason? The price of letting Seth McFarlane direct your flashbacks.)

I realized that Hybrid Woodworking could have eliminated a lot of costly mistakes that I’ve made along the way had it been written before I started down the woodworking path, but at least it can help others avoid those mistakes in the future.

Mark recommends a pretty modest number of power tools but they will set you back: They include a table saw, a jointer, a thickness planer, a router, a band saw, and a random orbit sander. He makes quite a few hand tool recommendations as well.  What I really came to appreciate about this section of the book is that Mark takes the time to break down the topic of hand planes in a way that will make sense to individuals who haven’t had the opportunity to compare or actually use a variety of planes and experience the difference between them. Do you really need every single variant of hand plane?  Hybrid Woodworking recommends surprisingly few, and explains which ones you truly need and which planes are made redundant by the functionality of other planes or by other tools in your shop.

Measuring? What’s Measuring?

One category of tools that’s conspicuously missing from Hybrid Woodworking are measuring tools.  Mark mentions marking gauges but says nothing about the tapes and squares that you’ll need almost immediately. I’m not sure if this is by design or by accidental omission, because I know Mark follows the philosophy that measuring introduces error which is itself an excellent idea to take to your shop! But you can’t eliminate all measuring and you won’t get far in your woodworking journey without a decent tape measure, try-square, combination square, and bevel gauge. These tools were featured in plenty of pictures throughout the book yet somehow it remains void of any mention. Something to keep in mind for the next addition?

The How-To Section

The second half of the book goes into details about how to use a combination of power and hand tools to get great, fast results on common woodworking problems.

Mark covers cutting rabbets, grooves, and dados using the hybrid methology. He discusses mortise and tenon joints in great detail and provides some options on how it can be done using the tools you already have in your shop.  He even discusses a modern solution to the problem: do away with an integral joint completely and use the Festool Domino Joiner system to join your work. Hybrid Woodworking also covers several variations on lap joints and, of course, dovetailing.

Final Thoughts

I have one final criticism of Hybrid Woodworking: Mark’s shop sports the best of the best in both power and hand tools, which may set some unrealistic performance expectations. While I’m thrilled for him that gambling on following his passion has worked out to the level that he can afford them, most hobbyists can’t justify buying Festool and Lie Nielson when they first start out.  And while a Lie Nielson plane is going to produce those gossamer shavings that get Mark all hot and bothered, the planes that most of us are going to be starting with will not produce them out of the box. Every single one of my planes, whether purchased used and restored or bought new, required some finessing of their own to produce the kind of quality Mark gets straight from the factory with his Lie Nielson planes. I feel like there ought to be at least a little bit of a conversation about tool quality and tuning, particularly when it comes to hand planes. (Secrectly I’m just jealous of Mark’s awesome toys.)

But don’t get caught up on this small criticism.  Hybrid Woodworking is a great introduction to the craft, and in the end can save you money by helping you purchase the tools you really need, when you need them. I highly recommend both Hybrid Woodworking as well as The Wood Whisperer website and videos.

Book Review: Worms Eat My Garbage

Well I’m stuck in the throes of what can be called a historically typical Pennsylvania winter: a difficult time for a person with an unheated workshop to feel motivated to do much of anything. On the bright side it’s given me an opportunity to finish some books, and several nights ago I finished Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof.

You might be wondering how a person might come to the conclusion that they should bring thousands of worms into their home. My girlfriend’s dad  has been raising red worms to sell as bait in his sporting goods store and his experience got me thinking: could I use these critters to compost my kitchen waste?

The answer to that question is: Hell yes.

Worms Eat My Garbage

The point of Worms Ate My Garbage is to teach you the basics of vermiculture and how to set up a worm bin that will compost your kitchen waste while not being completely disgusting.

I’ve tried a couple of composting methods and vermiculture (worm composting) is definitely my favorite.  My experience with Bokashi wasn’t positive enough to ever follow-up on it on the blog.  My compost bin is great–except in the winter when it’s not hot enough to process anything and it’s a pain to suit-up for the frigid weather just to toss in scraps.

My worms bins are great: since Worms Ate My Garbage taught me how to do it right the bins don’t smell, they don’t attract other pests, they eat my garbage, and they turn it into something I can use in my garden. On top of that, they’re reproducing fast enough that I can give them to the in-laws to sell at their shop.

It didn’t start that way.  When I decided to setup a worm bin I dove in head-first with no research.  I purchased 1,000 redworms from Amazon (yes, that Amazon) and an 18 gallon pastic tub.  I filled it with scraps, leaves, and a little soil. What I soon found was that moisture would pool at the bottom, eventually drowning worms at that level.  The worms up top weren’t eating the scraps fast enough and the environment became smelly and attracted fruit flies by the thousands.

My second worm bin fixed the moister problem. I designed a wooden bin with an angled bottom that directed water to a copper pipe, where it could flow out into a bucket. That worked great, until the moisture bowed the lumber and my bin was no longer water-tight.  In addition it did nothing to fix the fly problem and it created another: the thing was too heavy to move around after it was filled.

I finally decided to do a little bit of research.  I purchased Worms Ate My Garbage and Mary Appelhof’s small book about worm-raising quickly showed me where I went wrong.  Worms need bedding and moisture and I was providing neither in healthy quantities.  My bins were attracting fruit flies because I was just tossing the food on top. Instead, I now dig a shallow hole and bury scraps, then cover them with fresh bedding, then cover the top of the bin with damp cardboard.  The flies no longer make an effort to find it.

Ms. Appelhof also takes the time to talk about how to separate worms from their “casing”, which is code for worm poop so you can keep the compost and restart your worms in a fresh bin.

One thing you may have to overlook about this book is the occassional sensational comment.  In the chapter that deals with pest management the author explains that she won’t use the vacuum to eliminate fruit flies because using electricity to do it seems “counter-intuitive” to the whole exercise. That’s certainly her right, but for the rest of us who just don’t want flies in our house: break out the friggin Shop-Vac.

In the video above you might notice that my worm bin consists of an 18 gallon plastic tub inside of a similarly sized tub. The inner tub has holes drilled in the bottom.  As long as you keep food and fresh bedding in the top bin the worms will stay there, but when you’re ready to clean the bin out you can let the worms do the work for you by adding bedding and food to the bottom bin and in a few weeks most of the worms will migrate down on their own.  Then you can use the worm casting in the top bin however you please and restart your whole process by dumping the contents of the outer bin back into the inner bin. You can read all about it here.

Overall I highly recommend Worms Ate My Garbage.  It’s technical enough that science geeks will enjoy and appreciate the proper terminology, but simple and practical enough for the every-day recycling junkie to quickly put into practice.

 

 

Product Review: Earth-Rated Poop Bags

Some might say I take my recycling to a ridiculous extreme.  If you followed me around with a camera for a few days, you’d eventually catch me moving stuff my roommates threw away to the recycling bin or compost pile. Some may think that’s gross.  Well to them I say go suck eggs! Then compost the aforementioned eggs, because I hate to see them go to waste, you asshole.

For those of you looking to eliminate that last 5 or 6% of trash you still find yourself leaving for the garbage man, Earth Rated Poop Bags can help you get there.  They’re sturdy, environmentally friendly, and a great alternative to composting your actual dog.

The Material

Earth Rated Poop Bags are made from the same corn-based material that Coca-cola is using in their PlantBottles, but unlike PlantBottles Earth Rated Poop Bags are biodegradable and meet the ANSI standard for biodegradable plastics (ASTM D6400). The bags are thin but durable.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve put a regular plastic bag in my pocket, only to pull it back out torn up by my car keys. The Earth Rated Poop Bags feel thin but have an elasticity to them that a regular plastic bag doesn’t.

The Smell

Earth Rated Poop Bags come in scented or unscented varieties.  I bought the unscented bags because their website was unclear as to whether or not the lavender scented type are biodegradable. The unscented bags have a similar odor to regular plastic bags.  But what do you want?  If you’re carrying around a bag of pooh you’re not doing it hoping to find your soul mate.

The Price

Earth Rated Poop Bags are definitely a little more expensive.  Last I checked regular poop bags were about $0.02 cents per bag, and Earth Rated Poop Bags were about $0.04 cents per bag.  Do they cost more? Absolutely.  But unless your dingo is dropping a dozen dookies a day, the difference is hardly going to break the bank.

Do Earth-Rated Poop Bags Really Compost?

The short answer is yes. The manufacturer says they should break down in 40 days and in my experience (so long as your compost pile stays healthy) I’d say that’s very true.  In the accompanying video I dissect my compost heap, which contains several bags deposited over the last few months.  I found a piece of one bag but the rest seem to have broken down completely.

Is it safe to compost dog poop?  The Department of Agriculture says it depends, because a dog’s stomach (and thus a dog’s dookie) can contain bacteria that’s not so good for his owner. If you don’t use the compost to grow food it’s perfectly fine.  If you do plan to use the compost to grow your garden, either don’t include your dog poop in that compost or use a red worms composting method.

The One-Straw Revolution

It’s fair to say that I don’t know what Amazon was thinking when it recommended I read The One-Straw Revolution.  I bought a beginner’s book on gardening once and some biodegradable dog poop bags, and I can only assume that from those purchases the Almighty Amazon Marketing Algorithm labeled me a militant environmentalist Hell-bent on removing the influence of science from that greasy mess I shove down my gullet on a daily basis.  I am not.  But I’m glad it assumed I was.

That's what we call "breakfast" around these parts.

That’s what we call “breakfast” around these parts.

Background

The One-Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka is a manifesto on farming, not a guide.  Fukuoka was educated as a biologist and worked as an agricultural customs inspector for several years.  During his brief government career he witnessed one of the tragic failings of man which Mark Twain described as thus:

Civilization is the limitless multiplication of unnecessary necessities.

Fukuoka -san watched as experts kept searching for scientific solutions to problems created by other scientists, the farming industry, and the whims of consumers.  But it wasn’t until he experienced a philosophical awakening after a bout with pneumonia that he returned to the orchards from whence he came.

I suppose in the 1940’s that pneumonia was a more serious deal than it is today, and this is where Fukuoka’s story gets a bit “emo.” His hospital stay left him in a depression and facing serious metaphysical questions.  He eventually concluded that

Humanity knows nothing at all. There is no intrinsic value in anything at all, and every action is a futile, meaningless effort.

Truly inspiring words from a man who went on to write a passionate book meant to spark a food revolution, right? (He actually jokes about it in the final chapter.) This realization led him to leave his career and return to the family orange grove where he began to experiment with what he would call “Do-Nothing Farming.”

Fukuoka's little-known Nihilism and marmut-farming stage.

Fukuoka’s little-known Nihilism and marmut-farming stage.

Do-Nothing Farming

Fukuoka began to experiment with “doing less” with his trees and vegetables and more with his awesome facial hair.  This process often led to failure but what he soon discovered was that his failures were caused by the damage done to the land by modern agriculture.

He soon realized that Mother Earth, much like Daryl Hanna,  was doing just fine before science came around and thought he could improve her. Once the soil is farmed using modern methods that include chemical fertilizers and herbicides, the land becomes dependent on them.  But once the soil returns to it’s natural state crops grow just fine with very little help from mankind.

Do-Nothing Farming isn’t about being lazy:  It’s about approaching agriculture in a way that works with nature instead of relentlessly trying to tame her. He used no fertilizer, no herbicides, very little compost, yet continually produced rice yields that compared with the rest of the farms in his area.

Fukuoka gives plenty of specific advice about his farming methods: plant summer and winter crops, utilize cover crops, cover the fields with the straw leftover from your crops to protect the seeds and replenish nutrients.  His instructions are pretty specific to Japanese agriculture but I’m excited to research and adapt them to my own gardening here in Pennsylvania.

100% FDA Approved, Organically-Grown Face Forest

100% FDA Approved, Organically-Grown Face Forest

Modern Agriculture: It’s the Consumer’s Fault

Much of this book is philosophical in nature, and considerable effort is spent discussing what good food actually is. (Depending on my mood it’s either food from my garden or a #13 from McDonalds)  Fukuoka’s definition is, loosely translated,  food you can enjoy eating which keeps you healthy without having to think too hard about it.  Basically he means local, in-season, organically grown food, and if you have to obsess over nutrition too much you’re probably doing it wrong.

The problem is that this isn’t what the consumer wants.  Like Hollywood has sold a false ideal of female beauty, so we’ve also been sold a false idea of what good food looks like.

The FDA tells us we need specific amounts of specific food groups ( these amounts often vary based on which agricultural lobby is throwing the most money around).  We think our foods have to be the perfect color, the perfect size, and the perfect texture. On top of all that, we want the perfect produce even when it’s not in-season. Consumers demand these qualities that don’t occur naturally, and if farmers want to sell their produce they’ll have to use unnatural methods to attain them.

Furthermore organically-grown produce is sold at a premium whether the growing process warrants it or not, pricing it right out of the hands of working men and women who need it the most.

consumer_whore

A Problem in Need of a Solution

I have one issue with Fukuoka’s philosophy of farming: in order for “Do-Nothing” farming to succeed on a global scale, society would have to change in a big way.  His ideas work in a world where the farmer grows for himself and sells to the local village.  On this scale the farmer can produce high yields in a natural way and still have leisure time leftover. However reality tells us that 9 out of 10 people world-wide depend on others to grow their food because they busy themselves with what Fukouka sees as meaningless human industry.  While I don’t necessarily disagree with him, those billions of people that would either starve to death or give up the convenience of modern living to pursue subsistence farming might.

Summary

What I loved most about The One-Straw Revolution is that it was philosophical in nature, but unlike so much philosophy it had energy, passion, and a goal driving every word. The author’s direct, common-sense approach to natural farming was refreshing in a world filled with the false hopes of science and technology making our lives simpler.

Product Review: Scoop-Away Super Clump

Noodle gives all other cat litters "the raspberry."

Noodle gives all other cat litters “the raspberry.”

I’ve had cats for about 6 years and I’ve tried a lot of different solutions to the litter problem.  Every time something different went on sale I’d switch brands. I tried the green options like recycled newspaper litter, the basic clay litter that costs $4.00 for a 30 lb bag, and the high-end products that cost $20.00 for half the amount.

I’ve learned two important lessons: If your eco-guilt is so crippling that you’re willing to live with the smell of cat butt then cut your carbon footprint even further by not keeping pets in the first place; and in terms of cost I’ve finally admitted to myself that using low-end cat litter isn’t being frugal, it’s being cheap (also, stupid). Cat litter is definitely one product where it pays to splurge a little.

I’ve finally found my brand: Scoop Away Super Clump. This stuff is amazing.  I’m not sure what sort of demon magic this product contains but the box says “never dump your litter again” and it’s not lying.  Whenever your cat goes #1, #2, or even if she’s drank too much and finds herself compelled to do both at the same time while hanging her head over the trash can to vomit, so long as she does it in Scoop Away Super Clump cleanup will be trivial.  Everything that isn’t a clump going in will clump into a dry, scoop-able mass when it hits the litter.  So long as you scoop the solids out daily you won’t have odor and you’ll never have to dump and replace the entire box.  You’ll have to add a few scoops every few days, but you’ll be surprised with how long it lasts.

Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking, Book 1: Joinery

Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking: Joinery

I’ll admit it: I haven’t even finished the first book in the Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking
series yet. And I suppose halfway through a book is the wrong time to be writing reviews and making recommendations. But hell with conventions.

After 55 pages I feel like this is the manual that should have come with my wood shop. Danish craftsman, teacher, and author Tage Frid introduces us to the properties of wood as a building material and how it reacts to tooling, drying and other stresses.  He introduces us to basic hand tools including a variety of saws, hand planes, and measuring tools and explains in extremely simple terms when each is appropriate to use.  Ever the pragmatist, Frid covers essential power tools as well.

What I like about Tage Frid is that he approached woodworking from the position of a master craftsman who wasn’t threatened by modern technology. He focused on the finished product and saw no benefit in selling a “hand-crafted” piece of inferior quality instead of a high-quality piece made with power tools.

Even still, taking the journey through the first 50 pages of this book is incredibly humbling. Frid teaches us not only how to use hand tools to rip, crosscut, joint and plane stock but how to do it safely, and how to care for those tools as well.  Then he brings us full-circle back to performing the same operations on motor-driven equipment.

I’ve come to the conclusion that Tage Frid is Roy Underhill had Roy been molded by apprenticeship and the realities of industry rather than the luxury of intellectualism and idealism he enjoyed in a university atmosphere and a career driven by television.  Underhill continues to teach the woodworking craft as it existed before the invention of electricity. He’s still a hero of mine and I think the history and skills he passes down are important. Roy’s knowledge and philosophy will always have a place with those among us who crave a hobby that lets us feel closer to the natural world and more like the creatures that nature crafted us to be.

But every once in a while, someone just need a thing built and–as Frid says–“he can make it with his teeth or a machine, it is still the final product that counts.”

Stay tuned for part two when I actually finish the book!

Cold Steel Two-Handed Machete

Cold Steel Two Handed Machete

I inherited my Cold Steel Two Handed Machete years ago from a friend who spent his youth collecting knives, swords, and other things that were sharp and bothered his parents.  Since that day 10 years ago it’s gone from my favorite “zombie apocalypse” novelty to my favorite outdoor tool.

The Cold Steel Two Handed Machete is incredibly useful, rugged, and fun, and it manages to be all of those things in spite of it’s low price tag.  I use my mine to cut brush, remove tree limbs two inches or more in thickness, trim shrubs, and pretty much any job that requires one thing to be cleaved from another. I’ve used my machete for plenty of jobs it’s not meant to do simply because I want an excuse to play with it.

The Cold Steel Two Handed Machete weighs in at 2.2 pounds and has a total length of 32″.  It feel incredibly lightweight and easy to control, and yet you won’t have a problem hacking through substantial brush with it.  The polypropylene handle isn’t that comfortable, but it’s incredibly durable.  The blade itself sharpens well and will serve you well for many, many years.