Wood you like to be more organised?

Do you feel like you could be buried in a timber avalanche every time you try and get something out of your wood pile?

Do you feel like the piles of wood in the dark corners of your workshop are growing when you’re not around, slowly building up their numbers until there’s an offcut army ready to attack?

If so, never fear because there’s an easy way to get on top of your woodpile before it gets on top of you. This is post #2 in my “Is your workshop a mess?” series.

This is what my wood pile looked like before I started. In reality it’s about three piles – one in this corner that consists of sheet goods and long boards (and apparently old saws!)

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This bucket for thin but long stock

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and finally this one underneath my grinder stand that contains all the short stock

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Forgive me the terrible pun in the title and let’s get going. If you read the first article in this series you already know the drill

1) Prepare an area to sort things onto. Sawhorses work well and since we have a stack of sheet material we need to sort let’s use those as the tables.

2) Find a couple of empty boxes and a bin. One is for small pieces you want to keep, one for scrap that isn’t worth keeping but can be used in the BBQ/Fireplace and the bin for anything that can’t be saved or burnt like treated or painted wood.

2) Grab every bit of timber you can see and put it onto the sorting area grouping the same type of timber where possible, and sizes/thickness when it’s not

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3) Discard anything that is obviously too small or damaged to be used. Put anything that is safe to burn into the burn box and the rest into the bin. I don’t have a fireplace but one of my neighbour’s parents do so they are more than happy to take a box of kindling off my hands a couple of times a year.

4) Put anything that is small and too good to throw out into the third box. We’ll go through this again at the end to make sure we’re not hanging onto anything that really doesn’t need to be kept.

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5) Allocate whatever remains to projects if possible. I’ve written about this step previously here and highly recommend doing it as it really focuses you on what is worth keeping and what isn’t.

6) Move the material you are keeping back into wherever it fits best. If you have a dedicated rack or area that’s great, for me they went back to where they started but a lot neater now and with about 30% of the material I’ll never be able to use removed.

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While I’ve covered some of this ground in a previous post I thought it was worth going over it again and on a larger scale as that post only really dealt with step #5.

Next time – the taming of the screw!

Is your workshop a mess?

Mine was a total disaster until I learnt these tricks for keeping it tidy. I had rusty tools piled everywhere, stacks of timber falling over every time I tried to get to the piece I wanted and barely any room to get my car parked at night.

Now my neighbours walk past and comment on how organised it is, my wife is much happier about it and I can actually get work done without struggling to find tools or clear bench space.

This is post #1 in my ‘Is your workshop a mess?” series.

#1 – You don’t need 70 chisels

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I knew I had a chisel problem as there was always a few lying on every available surface but it wasn’t until I laid them all out like this that I saw the extent of the problem. I was absolutely astonished to find out I had 70 chisels.

After working out what I actually used most of the time I realised I’d be keeping two of them – a 1″ Irwin and a 1/8 Titan. I wasn’t ready to go to that extreme so I narrowed it down to the ones you see below, plus the small carving set which has it’s own rack.

I kept a set of Irwin blue chip’s as my bash around bench chisels, my father’s set of Toledo’s as they have sentimental value besides being great to use, a couple of actual paring chisels, a smaller and more useful range of the Titan’s for when I do occasionally make mortises, some carving gouges and a butt chisel for when I need something shorter.

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It’s far easier to store and maintain this many compared to what I had before, plus I had a more cash for timber after selling the rest of them off.

This is the method I used and it can be applied to all types of tools

1) Prepare an area to work on

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2) Lay out all the tools of the same type in this area so you can see what you have

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3) Group like items together and keep only the best of anything that is duplicated

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4) Go through whatever is left and get rid of anything that is rarely used.

5) Store what you are keeping in a way that they are protected and accessible for when you need to use them.

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6) Put them back as soon as you have used them, don’t just set them down and think ‘I’ll put them away later’

If you have time, sharpen them all before putting them into their new home so they are ready the next time you need them.

Next time we’ll tackle something that I think we all struggle with – the ever expanding woodpile. Stay tuned!

Turning a Camphor Laurel Bottle

After the success of the bud vase that I turned on the drill press I wanted to have another go. I had a small piece of Camphor Laurel that I’d not found a use for and decided to try turning it into another bud vase. I got the basic shape done then decided it could be something a little more interesting.

I used a small file to cut a deep groove in the top so I had a lid and a body, then shaped it some more so that the lid had a bead on it.

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Once this was shaped and sanded I cut the lid off, drilled out the body and the lid and sanded it a bit more.

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The outside got a coat of orange oil and beeswax and I filled it with more of the camphor laurel shavings. The lid already had a hole from the nail I’d used to hold it in the drill press so instead of sealing it I shaped it a bit bigger.

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Fitted together it looked like this

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The final result is a small bottle that you can sniff when you have a cold to get the camphor smell. Now that the beeswax smell is fading the bottle itself has the nice smell too.

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Can you turn wood on the drill press?

Did you know that you can turn wood on the drill press?

I recently read an article in Fine Woodworking magazine on how to turn drawer knobs on a drill press so thought I’d give it a go. The original article doesn’t seem to be available online but there’s an even better video version here that I wish I’d seen earlier.

In the article they used a tenon cutter to make a round stub on the end of their square stock to put into the drill chuck but I don’t have one so decided to start with something that was already round. I put a thin piece of dowel into the chuck and using files tried to shape it but all I ended up with was chunks missing on one half of the dowel. What was I doing wrong? It looked so easy in the article

I went away for a week disapointed that it hadn’t worked but couldn’t stop thinking about it. A bit more more research found that people had better results when they supported the piece they were turning with a nail or rod to simulate the dead center on a real lathe so the next weekend I stuck a nail in the drill press and used a file to smooth the tip of it so it was conical rather than pyramid shaped, drove it into a bit of scrap and clamped that to the drill press table. I also drove a nail into the top of the  next dowel I wanted to work with and used it to hold it in the chuck instead of putting the actual wood in as this dowel was too big.

Because this was already round there was no work to do before I could start shaping it. I’ve got no shortage of files and rasps and microplanes in the workshop as I use them a lot for other projects and found they work just as well here. I held the rasp behind the workpiece with one gloved hand holding the handle and the other the tip to support it. It worked a lot better this time and shaping this little took handle took only a few minutes.

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I still had some time left so wanted to try a bigger project so grabbed a square bit of maple from the wood pile and cut it to a short length.

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All the advice I could find said to take as much of the square shape of the wood as possible before trying to turn it so I used my bench knife to do that.

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I’ve got an old farrier’s rasp that I’d found somewhere that has always been too coarse for spoonmaking but turned out to be perfect for roughing this into a cylinder.

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I wasn’t actually trying to turn this into anything, I just wanted to practice using the tools and seeing if I could get the technique right. I was using a smaller half round rasp here.

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When it got to this shape I decided it looked like either a torpedo or a bud vase, and I figured that my wife might have more use for a bud vase than a wooden torpedo so decided to go in that direction. The same half round rasp was still doing the work though I did swap to the flat side for some of it.

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I was happy with the basic shape so switched to a vixon file to smooth it. These are the files that have the teeth that look like a smile and are mostly used for cleaning up car body filler but can give great results on wood. You can see the difference between the rasp and it here. I also tried a mircoplane and found they work really well too and leave a great surface.

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I have some mini files and decided to try adding some detail. I wasn’t sure that they would hold up to the force but there was no trouble at all.

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I finished with a few grades of sandpaper to get it smooth then gave it a coat of shellac while still on the drill press so the grain would be raised and I could sand it smooth again easily.

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I took it of the drill press, drilled out the center and widened the opening with a file and finished it with a couple more coats of shellac then beeswax. For a practise piece I think it turned out well.

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I’m really liking turning stuff this way. I was a bit worried about safety at first but now that I’ve used it a few times I’m comfortable with it. I was also worried about damaging the drill press but there’s been no sign of problems and I’m using less force on it than I would when using a sanding drum so we’ll see how it goes. If it shows issues I’ll stop doing it but until then I’m having fun working in the round. I’ve got a lot of scrap that I have ideas for now.

Trying to make a mobile phone stand

Trying being the right word here.

Sometimes mistakes happen in the workshop. As long as the only thing injured is your pride it’s OK though as they can be a great learning experiance. For instance, I wanted a nice wooden stand to hold my phone at work because apart from it helping to keep my desk tidy I like the idea of adding some wood to that world of plastic and steel.

I’d seen a few pictures of ones that are basically two bits of wood with a slot in each that fit together and decided to try and make one of those. I had some likely wood around, I think it’s pacific maple or meranti so not the best timber but it has a decent grain and should come up nice. Plus, it fits into my ‘don’t bring in any timber until I’ve used what I have’ plan

I don’t tend to do a lot of actual joinery work because I struggle to get things right and so I’m trying hard to pick projects that will make me overcome this. While this project is quite simple, it requires a couple of slots to be cut to fit it together so I get to practise a number of things – accurate marking, sawing to a line and chiselling out waste.

I started with the below piece of timber. It’s already dressed so I can start right away

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I cut it to size. This is a lot easier now I have my hand mitre box built. I don’t think I’ve shown you pictures of that yet but I’ll get to it soon

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You can see in the previous picture I’ve started marking up where I want to create a cutout. This next picture shows both pieces marked and a knife line put in. I’ve also marked which bit is waste and which is to be kept and it’s important to remember to do this otherwise you can end up making mistakes with it.

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I put the shorter piece into the vice and cut both lines. I managed to miss the first line a little but can clean that up later. I should have been using a backsaw here because I’m not quite practised enough with the pullsaw to get the line. It’s just another opportunity to practise though so that’s fine.

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I cut the slot out of the other piece the same way, hitting the lines a bit better this time

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You can see below that while I actually got closer to the line on the second lot of cuts I still didn’t get it quite right. I’ll try and practise that some more.

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I clamped the first piece to the bench ready to chisel it out. I should have used a benchhook but my benchtop is just MDF so a few marks don’t matter.

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I removed the waster with a narrow chisel, taking small bites and working back towards my baseline.

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I was actually pretty happy with the results, the slot was just about right

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I repeated the steps for the small piece

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so I finished with two bits, slots cut and ready to put together

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This is where the ‘trying’ part of the title comes into play. I decided to test fit the two pieces and they were very close to perfect, and went 3/4 of the way together without an issue. I thought to myself that all it needed was a light tap with a rubber mallet and they would friction fit, I might not even need glue

Apparently the timber had other ideas and even with the lightest tap both pieces split across the grain and fell apart. This was the moment when I looked at the bench, looked at the clock and realised I’d just spent the better part of an hour making kindling.

Obviously I was disappointed but I’ve learnt to step away when this sort of thing happens and to grab a cup of coffee and let myself think about what went wrong and what I can do to fix it. I actually ended up making the stand again from the leftover bits and using glue instead, but that’s not the most important thing I took away here. I realised that I’d got in plenty of practise that will make me better next time I do similar work and even though this didn’t turn out the way I wanted it definitely wasn’t time wasted.

I could have pretended this project never took place but I decided to write about it instead in hopes that it will help someone else realise that even though things may not tun out the way you wanted, it’s still worth having a go at it.

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Adventures in Boxmaking

I made a box once. I was in year 8 at school and they were forcing us to take woodwork. I was one of the few in the class who actually enjoyed being there but I can’t say I was very capable even having grown up around a father and grandfather who were both very good with their hands.

The box I made was a shoeshine box with a sloped front hinged at the top. The idea was that you could store your show cleaning supplies inside and polish your shoes while they were on top. I’ve got no idea why I choose this project. I don’t think they made us all do the same thing and I don’t recall seeing anyone else try the same project.

The box was made of wood grain veneered MDF, something I’ve never seen again to this day. The sides were rebated on the router table and I actually got to use it myself under strict supervision even though most of the class wasn’t considered responsible enough to do so.

Everything was glued and nailed. It was actually square, and the only real problem was that the door wasn’t bevelled to match the angle of the slope so it never sat quite right, if someone had introduced me to a jack plane back then I could have fixed that problem in a matter of minutes.

That box is still around at my parents place and is being used for the purpose it was built. It’s also been used as a stool when changing light globes and has shown no sign of ever falling apart.

For some reason though even with that success story behind me I’ve avoided making boxes since I took up woodworking. They have always just scared me a little. I’ve made a few open front cabinets and drawers which are nothing more than boxes with another name but I’ve always found a reason to avoid boxes even though I admire others who can do them.

Part of it has to do with the problems I have with making things square. I just never seem to nail every cut so there’s always some sort of issue when it comes time to put things together. It’s one of the reasons I love spoon carving so much, everything is from one piece and no joinery is involved. If you make a mistake you just change the design a little and nobody ever knows the difference, where with a box everyone knows that the sides should join perfectly at 90 degrees and there’s a lot less room for error.

Another part of it has to do with dovetails. I know they look lovely but the one set I’ve ever cut were less than perfect so I never gave it another go. And what’s the point of making a box without dovetails, surely it can’t be any good right?

I decided a few weeks ago that I was going to face my fear and try to make a box. I wasn’t going to try and do dovetails this time around, it was going to be simple butt joints with glue and nails. I can only face one demon at a time and wanted to get at least one finished box under my belt before I tried something more fancy.

I started with some meranti that was in the wood pile. This piece of wood has had quite a few lives now. It started as the safety rail of my childhood double bunk beds, then was part of my very first plane till. Then it was slated to be part of a wooden toolbox I was building. I’m pleased to say it’s finally found a place in a finished project now. This is how it looked when I started.

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A quick sand and it’s looking better. I didn’t mind that it wasn’t totally clear of marks, the goal was to finish a box and in this case the process was more important than the end result.

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The next step was to cut the pieces to length. I had a couple of pieces that would do for a top and bottom so based the lengths on them. This is where it all started to fall apart though. I used my powered drop saw to make the cuts and while the fence is square to the blade, I made a mistake in assuming that the sides of this piece of timber were parallel and they weren’t so the angle of the cut was slightly off on all of them. Lesson one learnt – joint every board you use just in case or at least check them with a square.

The next mistake I made was not correcting the small error from above, which would have been a simple thing to do on the shooting board. Instead I let myself get flustered and almost give up. Lesson two learnt – don’t try and rush just to get finished or the quality of the end result suffers.

I managed to calm down, step back and look at what I had done and decided to put it together anyway. This is what it looked like at that stage. Small gaps at the joins but structurally strong enough after the glue and nails were put in. It actually almost looks like a box!

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I gave it a sand to see what it looked like then. Still a few gaps but overall not too bad.

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Because the board wasn’t jointed before starting there were some small height differences at the top, so I decided not to make the same mistake as before and fixed them so the top was all level. I also decided that the shape was too heavy so put a large bevel on the top to try and make it a look a little less…well….boxy

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I added the other piece as a top, and using a couple of small offcuts from the woodpile made a handle for it too, held in place with glue. I also added another bevel on top and a smaller one underneath.

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Two smaller bits of the same offcut were glued on the underside of the lid to make stops to hold the lid in place

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Then I put it all together to see how it looked

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A coat of shellac with an oak coloured stain mixed in started the finishing process

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A rub down with fine steel wool and another coat of shellac got it looking pretty good

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Finally the outside got a couple of coats of beeswax, buffed in between, to fill in the small gaps and to bring out the shine

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I think I must have sat and stared at it for at least 15 minutes once it was finished. I couldn’t believe it, I actually made a box! It’s now sitting proudly on my bedside table and is used to hold all of the items I take out of my pockets when I get home.

The actual process wasn’t that hard, and it was only a couple of very minor mistakes that caused problems and I know how to avoid them next time. I wish I hadn’t waited this long to try to do this as it’s put a lot of unfounded fears to rest. I know it seems strange to take about fear in relation to a woodworking project but that’s what it was – fear of failure, fear of not doing a good enough job, fear of wasting time and material.

I know that if it hadn’t turned out well it didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, but it still mattered to me so I kept putting off trying it and somehow turned it into something a lot harder in my mind than it was on the workbench. I don’t think I’m alone in thinking this way, I’ve shown some of my spoons to friends at the local woodwork group who were terrified at the idea of working on something that was made up of curves  and I know others who won’t try any of the sample projects in front of the more experienced woodworkers for fear of looking foolish.

While the end result was good, I think what I learnt about having a go at something, taking my time and correcting the little errors before proceeding to the next step is the important thing. I’ve also learnt that boxmaking is a lot of fun and I can’t wait to have a go at my next one. This time though, there will be dovetails!

A pair of salad servers

Following on from last post, I was reminded by my lovely wife that I’d promised my mother a set of salad servers for Mother’s day. It was still a couple of weeks away but I wanted to make sure I could get them finished in time so picked out two in-progress spoons that I’d been working on to complete.

Both the ones I picked were meranti, but after a little work on them I realised the colour difference between them was too great. I tried staining both to see if that would solve the problem but it didn’t.

Back to the wood pile I went. I was lucky and found another semi completed blank from the same piece of timber as the spoon I’d been working on during the spiral handle experiment and quickly carved it to the same shape. It was a little longer but that was easy to fix. You can see the attempt to stain the handle on the lower spoon.

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I finished carving the bowls and using the first spoon as a guide I cut the same spiral pattern on the second. I sanded both spoons and used an existing salad server to mark out where the tines on the fork should go.

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I drilled the end point of each tine with a small bit in my nice old miller’s fall hand drill, then cut the rest out with a coping saw. I then finished the insides with some small files. I mentioned last post that I like to use files on wood, and in this case they were the only tool I had that would fit into the slot and they left a really nice finish inside the slots.

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Here’s a close up of the tines after they are cut and cleaned up

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I gave them both another good sand and used scrapers to clean up a few gouge marks that were in the bowls. I couldn’t get them perfect because the wood was so soft it kept marking more but hoped that after finishing they would turn out fine anyway.

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My first thought was to just oil them, but even a couple of coats of orange oil left them looking pale and quite grey.

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I moved onto a shellac with an oak stain mixed into it and gave them a few coats, rubbing them with fine steel wool in between and after the final coat to remove the shellac completely, as I’d only wanted it to carry the stain. Then I finished with a couple of coats of a food safe oil making sure the wood was sealed and buffed them until they looked right.  My wife tied them with a nice bit of ribbon and the recipient was very excited to receive them!

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Experiments in Spoon Design

Whenever I only have a few minutes to spare my go-to project is a spoon. I have a pile of blanks already cut out and since most of the work needs nothing more than a knife it’s an easy thing to pick up and put down without having to go to the trouble of moving my car out of the ‘workshop’ and setting up like is needed for larger projects.

I’d cut up some meranti that was laying around when I was cutting blanks and while it’s a difficult wood to get a good finish on it is very cheap and easy to work with so is great when you want to try out something new. Below is the rough blank, it’s been cut out with a jigsaw and is waiting to be shaped.

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My favourite knife made short work of getting the handle rounded and shaped.

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The idea this time was to try and cut a spiral pattern into the handle. I generally only find myself working with ‘boring’ woods eg pine, maple, meranti and tasmanian oak that don’t often have a huge amount of character on their own so I wanted to try and do something in the shaping to make up for that. I started by wrapping masking tape around the newly shaped handle in a spiral to use as a guide. The gaps are where the cuts would be made.

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I started with a round rasp and cut the spiral. I could only use the very tip since I didn’t want the channel to be very wide and since it’s a fairly coarse rasp it left deep tooth marks in the soft wood.

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You can see below that while the shape is pretty good it still needs a lot of refinement

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I don’t have a finer round rasp but I do have a good number of files, and even though they are designed for metal I fine they work very well on wood as long as you clean the teeth frequently. Good advice for both your files and your mouth!

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With the spiral channel now refined it’s looking more like what I had imagined, but it’s still hard to tell with the tape on it

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After I removed the tape, this is what it looked like. I was pleased with the result of the experiment and decided it would be something I’d try again at some point.

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Hasting’s Woodworker Guild

Way back at the start of the year I was away in Port Macquarie for a few days holiday and I posted about a trip to Timbertown, a recreation of a steam powered sawmill village. Also on the grounds is the local woodwork club, the Hastings Woodworkers Guild.

When you walk up to the front of the clubhouse you see an assortment of old hand tools mounted on the veranda along with name plates to identify what some of them are. While part of me wanted to take them down and restore them I could also appreciate the display for attracting passers by and fitting in with the theme of the area, and most of them probably wouldn’t have been in good enough shape to be working tools again anyway.

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The other thing that caught my eye on the veranda was a wooden pole lathe, complete with an example of a turned work piece and a sigh offering to demonstrate how it worked. I didn’t get the opportunity to do so but would have loved to see it in action.

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The entrance to the clubhouse is around the side, the veranda is just a display, and on walking inside I saw a wonderful display of some of the work the club’s members had been doing. With their permission I took some photos to share here.

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We were warmly greeted by one of the members who spent quite a lot of time telling us about the club and some of the work being done there. He was obviously proud of the club and the work it was doing and it was a genuine pleasure to hear all about it. He introduced us to some of the other members, pointed out parts of the actual workshop area which is fenced off from the display room and had my wife trying to solve complicated wooden puzzles from the display.

It’s always great to meet fellow woodworkers and the members at the Hasting’s club were incredibly friendly and the work on display was all of excellent quality. They even gave my wife a small scroll sawn dolphin as a souvenir of her visit. I’d highly recommend stopping in to visit if you’re ever in the area.

The not $40 Serving Paddle

One Sunday morning a few weeks ago my wife and I were wandering around the local shopping centre. She puts up with my frequent trips to the hardware store without much complaint  so I try to be patient when we visit homeware stores. This particular trip we were just looking around and spotted a wooden paddle for serving cheese and nibbles. The store wanted $40  for what was really nothing more than a bit of flat wood so she turned to me and said “You could make that couldn’t you?”

It’s not that often that she wants something made, so I leapt at the opportunity.

That afternoon I got some time to play in the workshop so went looking for a suitable board. There just happened to be one just the right size and length that I’d not found a use for yet so I got to work on it.

First we worked out how long she wanted the paddle and a rough shape for the handle and I sketched them onto the board. I think it’s Douglas Fir but I could be wrong, but I’ve got a feeling this is a leftover piece of the sides from when I built my step stool and that was what it was made from.

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A few minute work with a jigsaw and it was roughly cut to shape. My wife had a look and noted where she wanted it adjusted a little during the final shaping.

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I shaped it with files and course sandpaper. I suggested running a roundover bit on the edges but she was happy with just the sandpaper being used to break the sharp edges

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A few minutes with a random orbital sander and quite a nice surface was revealed. There’s still a few spots on the edges that weren’t smooth at this point so it will need some more work. My wife asked for a hanging hole in the handle so I drilled that in too, and softened the edges of the hole with a countersink bit.

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I sanded the edges and the face with 1200 grit sandpaper, making sure to go in the same direction from the handle to the end of the paddle to avoid scratch marks accross the grain.

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A few coats of orange oil and a light buff with a clean rag and it was done. The colour in the grain really came out nicely, especially the wider lines on one side and my wife is very happy with the result as was I. The wood was scrap and I already had the tools and oil so the total cost was minimal, except for around an hour’s work…if you can call something you enjoyed doing work!

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