Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sanders aren't just for sanding

After a great week with my new DeWalt quarter sheet sander I got to thinking about why I liked it so much. I've written a bit more about it on Pemberley-Estate's sister blog, The Worship Woodworker.  You can check it out here.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Four clear winners

The two story open plan design of our house meant that we had a span of 9 metres to cover.  Not astronomical, but a bit of a challenge all the same.  The company that sold us the LVLs (Laminated Veneer Lumber – which is basically really hefty “plywood” with a funky name) came up with an engineered solution using 395mm x 55mm LVLs at 450mm centres. 
We had planned to leave these deep beams exposed, contributing to the pioneering, hand made texture of the house.  What we hadn’t banked on however, was that every beam would come with the date and manufacturer printed on it in wide black lettering.
We could have opted to paint the beams, but we felt that would look at odds with the warm oiled timber finishes on the Tassie oak windows, cedar doors and tallow wood stairs.  So, that left just one option – sanding.
Between us, Nette and I have spent around 60 hours sanding the blessed ink off the beams.  It’s been impossible to remove 100% of it, but it now looks aged and a lot less obtrusive.
A plus side of all this sanding is that it has enabled me to draw four conclusions:
The Dust-Bee-Gone works.
My highly scientific “blow my nose on the clean hanky test” has confirmed in my mind that the DBG filters out 95% more dust than the el cheapo dust masks. It’s that simple.  Here's some more info about them.

Electric sanders are consumables.
I kill at least one electric sander a year, usually just after the warrantee runs out (how do they know?). The upside is that I have worn out a lot of sanders over the last two decades and feel somewhat of an expert on the subject. I have tried cheap ones and expensive ones. My first observation has been that price is not a reflection of longevity.  To replace my last dead sander ($60-Ryobi, good sander, but only lasted 13 months) I lashed out and bought a DeWalt for $130. After 14 hours of solid sanding this weekend – I love it.
Compared to any other sander I’ve used: it captures more dust, runs markedly cooler, is significantly lighter (granted, it is the smaller quarter sheet size) and has the longest cord. If it lasts more than 12 months it will be a bonus.

The best sand paper is white aluminium oxide.
It keeps sanding for longer than anything else I’ve used. The best brand I’ve encountered is Carborundum. The worst performer I have experienced is the yellow painters’ sandpaper. As far as sandpaper goes, the yellow stuff makes a good non-slip drink coaster.

And the forth ….
God is good…but I already knew that.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Lipstick on a wombat

In case you haven’t noticed, I don’t particularly like machined finishes, faultless layouts or sharp manufactured edges. Rather, I gravitate to furniture that makes little attempt to hide its man made heritage, or, better yet, holds them up as a rite of passage.

But it’s the handmade aspect that was in itself a bit of a challenge when it came to the stairs (see this earlier posts for the background). 20 drawers with four dovetailed corners each represents a fairly big time commitment. For me, the battle was how to be efficient and effective without compromising the very handmade quality that I was after.

Enter two design choices and two “secret” weapons.

Design choice #1 - industrial sized dovetails
These are about a half inch at their widest point, thinning down to a quarter of an inch. This is consistent with the story that I want the stairs to tell. Namely, that the staircase started life in a dockside warehouse some 150 years ago and was rescued just before the building was demolished. From a practical aspect, the big dovetails also allowed me to correct some of the cupping and warping of the 100+ year old floor boards I’m using.

Design choice #2 - through dovetails
This too is consistent with Australian factories and warehouses built in the 1800’s, well before tech screws, liquid nails and routers. Back then, dovetails were used anywhere a joint needed to be practical, robust and mechanically effective.

Secret weapon #1 - a template
Before launching head on I spent a while making a template for laying out the pins and sockets. Templates work well anytime you want to repeat the same layout, which in my case was 80 times.

Secret weapon #2 - the bandsaw
The second weapon, was the bandsaw. The tails were easy as the cuts are all perpendicular to the table. But the sockets required an angled cut. I considered making a jig, or moving the table, but after experimenting I got very acceptable results using a spring clamp attached to one edge of the timber. The spring clamp allowed me to quickly position the board at the correct angle and to make any minor adjustments to compensate for the tails - something a jig would not have permitted with such ease. After cutting, I cleaned out the sockets with a sharp chisel.

These four decisions meant that each draw carcase was completed in 10-15 minutes. Granted a dovetail jig would be quicker as may an accomplished cabinet maker with hand tools. But the approach I’ve used has resulted in exactly the look I was after within an acceptable time frame with tools and techniques I am proficient with. Besides, for me, to attempt fine woodworking on antique floor boards is like putting lipstick on a wombat - it doesn’t disguise the wombat, it just annoys it.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


I went to the Working With Wood  show with Nette last weekend and had a fantastic time. We even picked up the dust mask with arguably the world’s coolest name, the “Dust-Bee-Gone”.

We’d previously read some positive write ups for the “DBG”, including one in the Australian Woodworker and another in Jim Tolpin’s book, “Woodworking Wit & Wisdom” (great book btw).

Mind you, at around $60 they’re not cheap, but with an expected life of several years we reckon they have the potential to be a good buy.

My experience with the el-cheapo disposables has been that when I blow my nose at the end of the day I still end up with a ton of junk on my nicely ironed hanky. Which makes me wonder just how much dust is making it all the way to my lungs.

I’ll let you know how the “Dust-Bee-Gone” performs over the coming months, in particular how it fairs in the highly scientific “muck on the nicely ironed hanky” test.

If you’d like to buy a DBG contact Steve Diver.
PS: Steve didn't pay for the plug, he just seemed a nice bloke when we met him at the show.