Wednesday, September 30, 2009

安揉 Anjuu - Rich Soborowicz's furniture

In Seattle Washington, there is an outfit called NW Fine Woodworking that makes some pretty amazing stuff.  This post started off as just a "gush" about how much I liked the looks of one of their studio furniture maker's works: Rich Soborowicz's, some of which he calls "Anjuu". Pictured is the Anjuu Chest of Drawers from their website, from a full line of bedroom furniture that he makes..  Made of maple, birdseye maple, rosewood and bubinga - I think it is pretty.  Of course, given that a lot of his work has a Japanese flavor, I *had* to find out what Anjuu meant.  The most popular English translation is "living peaceably" The two characters, An and Juu are interesting too.
An () is composed of two parts, onna () which means woman/female and ben () which means shaped crown.  So the kanji of a woman wearing a crown (An) means: relax, quiet, rested, contented, peaceful.
Juu () has 4 different components (one of which () means tree) but the composite character (Juu) means: rub, massage, shampoo, debate vigorously, train, coach, worry.
So, a well cared for woman, treated royally means "living peaceably".  I rather like that.  Puts me in mind of the phrase "She Who Must Be Obeyed" (SWMBO) which is often used online to refer to one's spouse.
The best way to achieve the state of "living peaceably" might be to get your SWMBO a bedroom set made by Rich!  Hehehe
 Ok, a huge digression, but not one that distracts too much from my main point (I hope) which is: if you live anywhere near Seattle, you owe it to yourself to take a look at their gallary of fine work.  Tomorrow begins their "Maker's Mark" events, the best part of which is that the artists / artisians will be available for Q & A every Saturday and Sunday in October, from Noon to 3pm.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Replacing tool power cords

"Tailed assistants" if they are helping you, "tailed devils" if they are part of the problem.  I was all prepared to do a step-by-step power cord replacement post, but found one on the Fine Homebuilding website that did it better than I would have.  Read this great article by John Ross on replacing circular saw cords and triggers.  It is from the original Fine Homebuilding Magazine article in 2007, but it is timeless & well worth reading.  Reading it did bring up a few ideas that are topical though - you do have some options when replacing power cords.  It is true that for safety you want the outer sheathing to be unnicked and unpatched, but there is a great difference in opinion on how long a power cord should be.

If you cut through your cord, you could simply add a new plug to the existing cord at the break, without the need for disassembling the tool itself - assuming that you can live with a shorter power cord.  If this is the direction you want to go, there are a great variety of tool plugs that you can get.
A lot of contractors like short cords with twist-lock plugs - especially for roof framing where losing connection between a framing saw and the extension cord can not only mean time lost, but can be a hazard to anyone below.  Personally, I favor the standard "Edison" standard wall-plug connectors that most tools come with by default, as rewiring or using adaptors can be an expensive proposition and I'm not on a roof with a saw all that often.
But, having a cord pull out is a pain and my favorite solution is a right-angle replacement plug which fixes the problem nicely.  It provides just enough friction that accidental disconnects don't happen very often, if ever.
Another alternative to buying a replacement cord is to go the other way - use the piece of severed cord with molded plug attached (or whatever clean length of cord there is between the plug and the break or abrasion) and replace the "stub" as in the above Fine Homebuilding article.  You may have to put your own connectors on it, or use a soldering iron to tin the leads, but it is a darn sight cheaper than buying a new cord from the manufacturer. Actually, I've only bought a new replacement power cable once - and that was because the strain relief was ruined, and the new cord came with one specific to the tool which was molded on to the cord rather than a separate part.  Even if you aren't busily ruining power cords yourself, the most common defect you run into when buying a used power tool is a bad cord - generally repaired with miles of black electrical tape!  Getting comfortable making this type of repair will keep you a good deal safer and good tools out of metal recycling bins.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The camera as a shop tool

Everyone has used a camera to visual document what is happening at a particular moment in time, even if it is just snaps of family and friends.
What I want to talk about is how many different ways there are of using a camera in the shop, or for woodworking related activities & how digital cameras and camera phones have changed the way we can use pictures.  Old school was taking a picture, getting the film developed and pictures printed & then seeing what you have - with some chance of repeatable results through reprinting using the negatives / enlarging and printing details of a snapped photo.  Polaroid technology gave us instant results - and the only chance at repeatabilty was from viewing the resulting picture and re-taking a better shot. 
Digital camera technology, whether in a discrete camera, a cellphone camera, or even in a device family that started out as a music player and continues to add features has the best of all worlds - an instant look at the image you've captured and the ability to edit an image in endless ways after the fact before you print it - if you ever do. Frankly I rarely print pictures anymore.
Regardless of the history lesson, for most people, film cameras of any sort are dead, so I will be focusing on the use of a digital camera / camera phone for woodworking purposes.  Sure, there are still plenty of people getting film developed, but when a serviceable point and shoot 5mp camera costs less than developing and printing costs of 6 rolls of film I have a hard time understanding why.  Shrug.  Dismounts soapbox.
Most of these tips are of course usable for more than just woodworking, but if I didn't limit the focus of this blog, it would be pretty random!
  • First, there is the act of recording your work - even if it is just for yourself, a good photographic record will keep things crystal clear, long after your memory has faded.   Howard Ruttan said it best, here and has plenty of good "how to" tips, too.
  • Take pictures of products / product barcodes instead of hand written notes when going to the store to buy more - I've found this especially helpful when buying cans of finish, where you need to buy more of exactly the same stuff, but don't want to drag the entire can with you - I use the camera on my cellphone for this and don't bother printing - I just view the image on screen.  Can price shop this way too - take a picture of the product barcode and price tag, and use the info to shop for a better deal after you leave the store. 
  • Take pictures of furniture / ideas that you really like that inspires you.  I've done this with fellow craftsman's work (with their permission) and at furniture stores (well, I've never been asked to stop.)  When I see something I really like or want to duplicate or make my own version of, I take a quick snap.  I keep a folder of images on my computer full of pretty furniture - and details of furniture I particularly like.
  • Decide on finish - depending on what image editing / manipulation software you use, you can take a picture of an unfinished piece and can play with color digitally before committing yourself.
  • Use a cropped digital image in a Google Sketchup drawing to see if it is what you / you client wants - as long as the angle you take the photo at is appropriate to the view you eventually want to look at, Sketchup is quite accomodating - simply align the drawing to the image.  You can do it the other way too - take a picture of the wall a built-in or any other piece is going to be against, and position your Sketchup model against it.  Get the sizing just right, then use relative measurements to perfectly size the piece you are making.
  • Tool repair - any sort of complicated dis-assembly can benefit from pictures along the way to aid in re-assembly.  Actually, this tip is what caused me to write this entire post - was about to strip laces out of a pair of shoes preparatory to tossing them in the washer & out of habit took a picture of the way they were laced, so I could re-lace exactly the same way. 
  • Using a camera as a magnifying glass - when working on something tiny, a camera that has a good zoom feature that works well in low light situations can help you without even needing to take a picture - just use it as a really expensive combination lamp and magnifying glass, or snap a picture with flash to see around corners / into dark, awkward or tight spaces.
  • Take pictures at auction previews, estate and garage sales - or any other buying situation, including wood purchases.  This is where a cellphone camera shines - especially if you see something someone else can use - email or message the picture and get an answer back immediately rather than attempting to describe.
Well, that about wraps it up - oh, one final tip - as soon as humanly possible, give your image a meaningful file name.  DSC00190.jpg doesn't convey any useful information.  If you like keeping the sequence number, why not rename it to:
"DSC00190 Stickley Recliner Final Dry Fit view from front.jpg" ?
Yep, nothing wrong with spaces in filenames, and it makes searching for the image you want much easier.  If you manipulate images a lot, consider adding suffixes such as the date, and if you've resized it from the original, note that too.  So your final filename for a version you plan to post on the web or send in an email might be:
"Stickley Recliner Final Dry Fit view from front 2009 September 19 800x600.jpg"
Yep, I leave the sequence number off, and simply use the sort order to group pictures in the same series, or I add my own sequence number:
"Stickley Recliner 001 Grain selection for parts 2009 September 07.jpg" that even if I want basically the same filename for the next 5 shots, the rest of the pictures in the sequence (002, 003, etc.) are still unique.  I leave date at end so that even if a particular group of pictures span a few days, they will still be grouped together.  But really, what ever works for you is perfect.
A Picture's Meaning Can Express Ten Thousand Words.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Shop space / Man cave

The house pictured is my favorite local "Bat Cave."  Southern facing, ability to open up the doors and take in the sunshine - perfect!  There are a few other houses that are similar in the area, but this one is my current favorite.  A 5 car garage with a house over it would be ideal for my needs.  Ok, why did I call it a Bat Cave?  Phrase came from bro Greg, regarding some of the house designs I've come up with over the years:  "Sure, it is cool, but it is like Batman's Batcave - guys all dig it, but you could never get a woman to live there with you."
You have to admit, he has a point.  My current "shop" is garage based, with work spilling into the driveway whenever the sun makes an appearance.  Most hobbyist woodworkers are in the same situation - whether their shop is in a basement or garage, there just isn't enough space.  There are some interesting alternatives out there though.  First, you can build a detached shop, separate from your home.  Second, you could rent space for a shop.  Third, you could learn to make do with the space you have available.
And finally, you could share a shop with someone, either formally, or informally.  If I lived closer, The Shop People in Portland at SE Grand and Oak have an amazing shared setup.  Plenty of quality tools, and you simply pay a low monthly membership fee.  Somewhat closer to home and with a diverse tool selection is Portland TechShop which also offers classes in using some of the more high-tech tools.  Classes taken in more traditional venues are another option - most community colleges have woodworking classes, and there are woodworking specific schools nearly everywhere too.  The NW Woodworking School founded by Gary Rogowski and the Oregon College of Art & Craft are probably the two most famous locally.  But, schools don't really solve the shop space problem.  So, no answers for the masses, just a review of options

Friday, September 11, 2009

Branding / Leaving your mark

This post is all about signing and dating work.  Typically, I don't - mostly I don't think that my work / most work merits a signature. I feel like that is something reserved for artists / things of artistic merit rather than the ordinary or utilitarian.  But, as much of what I do is for family, I've given serious consideration to marking pieces for the benefit of future generations. (Lofty dreams, hoping that your hand-crafted what-not isn't put in the dump after whoever you made it for is done with it!)  But, leaving that behind for now, there are a few ways people brand their items:
The easiest is to simply use an indelible / laundry marker to write on some inconspicuous place before applying finish.  Any good permanent marker like a Sharpie would work.  You may want to put on a thin coat of finish first, so the marker doesn't "bleed" quite so much, and then finish as usual over it.  Another is buy a wooden or metal "mark" that you would buy especially for the purpose - most are round and easily inset into your project.

Rockler and many other companies offer woodburning brands that you can customize - some with your name, some that are just a logo, even just initials.  I've seen them offered with and without their own heat, so some are truly like a branding iron, while most are like large electric soldering irons.  They even offer a date attachment that you can change (buy a new one) each year - but it is so expensive you may as well buy a whole new brand.  Well, some of the graphic brands are more expensive, shrug, may be worth it for those.
Some use the right size forstner bit and drill a shallow recess and epoxy in a coin with the current year.  I like this because it gives a solid date that can survive refinishing if need.  Whenever you embed a coin though, you wonder if some 10 yo is going to dig it out eventually - either for his collection, or to put in a gumball machine.
Decals and stickers are another option and have been used by professionals and amateurs for many years as well - you can now make your own decals easily using a desktop inkjet printer.
I "Branded" this Blog by making a "Leach" icon that is simply a large "L" cradling the letters e,a,c,h. which arose from my interest in creating a furniture brand.  If I was going to use this as a basis for a decal, the "L" would be a try-square.  The top two brands pictured are real cattle brands from our family history / background in farming and ranching.  The first is Bar Lazy L ( (the horizontal top line over an L over a rocker) which was our Paternal Grandfather's brand. The second brand was our Maternal Grandfather's initials, with the first initial reversed for balance, probably the same as his monogram.
Anywho, no decisions yet on a brand for me.  We've done a few "branded" projects - one by putting a hand written piece of paper into a hollow spot in the project (I like that, and will do it again) before sealing it closed and another by signing in ball-point pen (although a laundry marker would have been much better) and finishing over that.
I'm leaning towards a wood-burned brand coupled with an epoxied U.S. dime.  Both can survive most any kind of abuse / refinishing / painting.  That combination seems busy /overdone somehow - but I don't want to make a new brand for each new year.  The modern Stickley company uses a wood burned brand and a brad-fastened metal mark that has elements from the original logos.  The brand pictured is on a twin bedframe headboard - this mark would be hidden by boxspring. This is another combination that can survive refinishing.  I want something smaller though, so that I can mark smaller projects as well as the large.  Any thoughts or suggestions appreciated!