Monday, 18 March 2013

Moments, Forgettable and Not

This past weekend I made my third annual trip to the Matisho Memorial Cancer Benefit at Waldheim, about 40 minutes north of Saskatoon.  This great event brings together woodturners from across the province and beyond to raise money for cancer research.  This year the event moved to a great new venue at Menno Industries.  The larger venue allowed everyone to work in the same room without being crowded, neither of which were possible at the old venue.  I was also able to back my truck right into the shop to unload my lathe and all the other (way too much) stuff I brought.
For this year's project I chose a piece of apple crotch from a tree that I cut down last summer.  Because of the number of experienced turners that come out every year that are available for advice I like to do something a little above my level of experience.  Although I've turned natural edged bowls before this piece of wood was a different shape than anything else I've done and that meant that I would be turning a lot more air than I was used to.
 As you can see this piece of wood is a Y shape and making it round requires a lot of wood removal.  I could have taken it to the bandsaw to round it off a little but the irregular surface meant that it would have been difficult to keep it parallel to the blade.  I didn't want it to catch and break the blade, or worse, so I spent the morning rough turning the bottom of the bowl.
After lunch I changed the pace and turned a pen from a blank I had made the night before.
These were the first blanks to come out of the new molds I had made.  I'll make a post about them another time.
After that I went back to work on the bowl.  I turned it around so I could grab the tenon on the bottom with the chuck, and started to hollow the inside.  I'm not going to bore you with any pictures of this part of the day because, frankly, I got carried away and forgot to take any.  I do that a lot.  Not really sure if this blog is better or worse for it.
By the way, I wasn't there by myself.  There were about fifty of us there the first day, covering the complete spectrum of age and experience.  I like to flatter myself by thinking I'm at about the middle of both. 
 By the way, the General lathes to the left were all supplied by our local Lee Valley.  They even go so far as to make sure they don't schedule any tuning classes on the same weekend.  I just thought such great support was worth a mention.
One of the cornerstones of the Matisho Memorial is education.  The event grew from a class that was held at Larry's shop.  Sharing knowledge and encouraging the next generation of turners is a big part of the weekend.
 As the day wore down, some of the checks that my wood had started with turned into cracks.  I decided to use some Amazing Casting Resin to fill them.  Some handy duct tape on the inside of the bowl would keep it from running through.
I mixed in a little black dye and left it overnight.
The next morning I started off by making a few pen blanks with the amazing casting resin and my pen molds, and wound up giving a demonstration to a few curious onlookers.  That's another good thing about this event, there's no pressure to get anything done.  You can take a break whenever you want, wander around and see what others are doing, or just hang out and chat.  A few people didn't do any turning at all but just decorated items they had already made.
This is clearly not my work.
While my pen blanks set up I went back to work on my bowl.  It had changed shape a bit overnight as the wood dried and the resin had not dried smooth so I needed to make it nice and round again.  Of course the parts that needed the most work were out at the edge of the bowl where I was mostly turning air.  A steady hand and a lot of caution were required.  I also spun the bowl as fast as was reasonable so the tool was touching wood as often as possible.
The inside was about to the point where it was ready to sand so I switched to the outside.  Again, caution was required as I worked my way from the bottom to the outside edge.  It was almost lunch time and I was nearly there when I felt, as much as heard, the BANG!
There wasn't much else to do but take a deep breath and break for lunch.  That or go off by myself and cry.  There were too many kids around to swear.  One thing I didn't do, though is toss the pieces in the trash.  There was too much time invested in it.  I have plans.  It has simply changed from craft to art.
At lunch time we were joined by Larry Matisho's son with his wife and daughters.  When I first joined the Guild about 10 years ago I took my first turning class from Larry.  Although I had had a lathe for over 20 years at that point, I have to admit I had no idea how to use it.  Larry gave me the basics to really use the tools to their full advantage.
After lunch I was going to turn some pens and I decided to offer a couple of the blanks I had made earlier to some of the kids that were turning pens.  I wandered over to where they were working and that is how, by the luck of being in the right place at the right time, I got to give Larry's granddaughters their first lesson in turning.  It was very special to be able to tell them that I had learned from their grandfather.
Thankyou, Robin and Emily, for a moment I won't soon forget.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

The Real Story of This Plane...

Is the blade.

A couple of years ago my Dad gave me a bag of wooden odds & ends that came from a friend of his.  One of the pieces of wood in the bag was this one.

It felt heavy for its size and my first thought was "This would be great for making a small plane."

Further back in the mists of time my wife had come home from an auction with a box of turning tools.  Among them was this skew chisel.

The blade was about an inch wide, just right for a plane this size.  More importantly though it was tapered, just like some of the old plane irons used to be.  In a wedged plane this would help to keep the blade from backing out in heavy use.

Another plus was that it appeared to have been made with the legendary Sheffield steel.  I did a search on the maker, J. Tyzack & Son, and found the history of the company.  You can read about it here.  Unfortunately, the trademark was at the thicker end of the blade which meant that I could not use it on the plane blade.

I decided that I would take the time to cut the blade to the length I needed by hand.  The reason was that I did not want to heat the blade up by grinding and ruin the temper of the steel.  I went out and got some good hacksaw blades special for the purpose.  I removed the blade from the handle, clamped it up, and set to work on the edge of the blade.

You have probably already guessed from the photo at the top of this post that that didn't go very well.
Ten minutes of vigorous sawing did little more than scratch the patina on this steel.  I got out my multi-tool with the cut-off wheel and started to cut off the end of the blade.  I worked slowly, pausing frequently, making sure that the steel never got too hot to touch.  The fact that the temperature in my shop is usually below freezing at this time of year helped.  It took me a couple of evenings work to get through the blade, and then a couple more to cut it from the main body.

When this photo was taken, that little bit of steel that was still holding was about the same thickness as the cardboard in a cereal box.  Still, I could not bend it.  This steel is hard.

During the times I was waiting for the blade to cool I would work away at the body of the plane.

After cutting the centre block apart on the band saw I used a float to do the initial leveling on the ramp.  I find that by taking down the high spots this way it makes it easier to set the plane to finish it.  this ramp was so small that even my block plane was too big to do the job.  I wound up using a detail plane to flatten it.

Once the blade was cut to length I spent a week grinding the bevel, and another day flattening the back and giving it an edge.  While that was going on I went back to that bag of odds & ends and came up with this piece for the wedge.

I don't know what it is, but it looks wild.  It also has a very strong scent when it is worked.  Someone told me it smelled like marijuana, but I wouldn't know anything about that.  Anyway, I made the wedge and shaped the body and finally installed the blade.

Although the plane worked well there were a couple of problems.  This is essentially a one-handed plane, and when I used it that way the top of the blade dug into the palm of my hand.  Another problem was that it was tough to adjust the blade side to side without hitting the wedge.

I cut about 1/8" off the top end of the blade and dished the sides of the wedge and also shortened the wedge to match the blade.

Here are some shots of the completed plane.

This will be a great little plane.  Smaller and lighter than a block plane, it will excel at chamfering and touch up work.  One day I will get the trademark engraved on the blade as well.  I think it is important to acknowledge where this steel came from, and to leave my own mark on this tool.