Once again, my creativity (maybe it’s A-D-D) kicks in while I’m supposedly following a set of plans. To go along with that, I’m posting this one completely out of sequence, although there is no ‘right’ place in the timeline of this project to put the feet on the tower, the reality is that the tower now has only some trim work and finishing to complete. But I managed to do this step today despite starting off in a funk, so I couldn’t resist posting it.
In the plans, there are feet on the bottom of the marble tower, basically just little odd shaped pieces of wood that echo the 120 degree angles of the hexagon base. I never really liked these and could not for the life of me think of what I was going to replace them with. I was also running out of ash.
First I tried taking a few scrap pieces and trying to make some semi-circular blocks that could go on, or under each corner. I cut them out and tried them in various arrangements with very little enthusiasm. I have saved myself the embarrassment and you the indignity of having to view pictures of these fubars. Just accept my word that this was a very bad idea.
I stood for a while pondering what I was going to do and realized that I only had a 12″x5″ plank remaining from my original milled stock for this project. This was okay since everything else was already cut and installed, but it meant I had no room for error if I wanted to make the feet out of ash.
This is when my recent spate of blog viewing paid off in spades.
After seeing Shannon Rogers (The Renaissance Woodworker) working on some french feet, and Charles Neil do some similar bracket feet via The Woodwhisperer Guild video collaboration build on a chest of drawers project…I could not resist trying this.
Now…a couple of caveats here. The legs I’ve built are pretty simple and basic, and very very small. I didn’t try to get perpendicular grain arrangement as Shannon shows, not did I attempt ogees or splayed feet, but I did at least cut each pair of pieces from a linear strip of wood, keeping the grain lined up. The grain in these legs is actually horizontal and for me this works better since they are very very stocky little legs.
With the 12″x5″ plank, I was able to rip down 6 strips 6″x1.25″ (3/4″ thick). From these I cut out a wedge from the back center of each piece, keeping the grain on the face lined up as best I could. Taking one piece, I drilled out a 3/4″ hole with a forstner bit to make the inside curve, then freehanded the rest on the bandsaw. This became the template for the rest of the pieces.
Once cut up, I used some painters tape to glue them up and hold them in place.
After a little while, with the glue dry enough, they got a light sanding.
Now comes the moment of truth, I wasn’t 100% sure that my hexagon base was accurately cut, it’s only been about a year since I started this project and I’ve learned a fair bit in that time. I tried each of the feet in place and to my amazement, they all fit really nicely.
Overall, I’m pretty impressed with how these turned out.
I thought about putting an ogee in the face similar to what Charles Neil has on his chest of drawers, or having the legs splayed out like in Shannon Rogers’ bookcase. The reality is these legs are only 1 1/4″ high and 3″ wide and they are going on a child’s toy, which is more than likely to get bashed around a fair bit. I opted for both the easier option and the most rugged and stable solution.
I am now itching to try this on something more substantial. Perhaps even carving some feet as well.
One thing woodworking teaches well is patience. I recognize that I could do more with this first attempt at bracket/french feet, but learning to walk before running is a valuable lesson and having a small project in which to display my lessons is pleasure enough. Aside from all that, I think they look damn good and they really hit the mark on what I think the base needed to finish it off.
Really, I was quite stumped to come up with a nice way to hold this funnel in place on the tower. I toyed with the idea of just holding it there indefinitely, but I doubt anyone would be happy with that plan.
While I was mulling this over, my daughter came out to see what I was up to. I was explaining the problem to her and I was holding the funnel by the rim (thumb under the outer rim and fingers over the top of the rim) when she says “why don’t you make a piece of wood that does that?” She points at my hand and proceeds to make a ‘C’ shape with her own hand and hook it onto the funnel. BRILLIANT!
I did a quick sketch and marked up a small block of ash with the ‘C’ shape and went off to the bandsaw. I tried it out and lo and behold it works just as well as my hand does – better probably since I can’t attach my hand to the tower permanently.
One of these ‘C’ holders was not quite enough to hold everything steady, so I made a second one and tried it out in various places, ending up on an adjacent upright. These were both screwed in from underneath (pocket hole style) to keep everything rigidly held in place.
Once the funnel was nicely attached and a few test drives with a marble I had to figure out how to get the marble from the exit hole of the xylophone spinning onto the funnel.
I tried a few approaches (cutting an angle directly onto a piece of rail that would angle directly onto a tangent around the rim, but I found that the results were less than spectacular, mostly the marble lost momentum quickly and dropped through the hole. I ended up cutting some pieces of rail into little angled sections and forming a curve from which I could get both the downward angle I needed and the angular momentum to send the marble around the funnel.
Once again, the shallow depth of the cove in the rails came back to bite me on the angled strip feeding the marbles into the funnel. On a regular basis, the marbles would skip over the edge of the rail and just drop right through the funnel, so I ripped very thin strips of ash and bent them around the top of the rail to act as a baffle to keep the marbles on track. It works nicely.
Here’s a video of it at work:
I was a little worried that multiple marbles in the funnel at one time might collide and create chaos, but this doesn’t appear to be the case, they seem to spin around effectively avoiding each other and maintain their distance after them come out of the funnel.
Next…I deviate from the plan completely as I try to tie in the bell and the remaining space between the funnel and the splitter mechanism.
I mentioned in earlier posts that I was ‘stuck’ at various points and procrastinated a lot. THIS, was the biggest cause of it.
Why was I stuck?
- First: I did not like the design of the spiral ‘funnel’ in the plans.
- Second: I knew I wanted to turn a funnel, but wasn’t sure how I was going to do it.
- Third: Once I’d made the funnel I couldn’t decide how to attach it.
The process of getting from the xylophone through to attaching the funnel was probably days of work, but months of elapsed time.
Part 1: What to do instead of the planned spiral funnel?
The plans called for a piece of plywood cut into a spiral with the center pulled down and the whole thing attached to a block of wood spanning the width of the tower. I thought this was kind of ugly and I had other ideas about turning a funnel instead.
Have you ever seen those charity coin funnels? The ones where you drop a coin down a slot and it rolls around and around the funnel, gaining speed as it goes lower and lower until it reaches the bottom and is really whipping around before it drops out? I figured I could do something like this for the marbles too. I even went so far as to look up the physics involved in these funnels and try to figure out what the curve needed to be to get the most out of the funnel. In the end, I found that the slope of the curve was going to be limited by the blank I was using and my turning skills.
Part 2: How to make the funnel?
I wanted to make the funnel out of ash to keep it in harmony with the rest of the tower, so I settled on trying out segmented turning. I had a couple of ash boards available still to use on this project, so I took one and started cutting segments at about 30 degrees each, giving me 12 segments to make up a circle. This was very much design on the fly. I cut enough segments to make up two 3/4″ thick ‘plates’.
My plan was to take the two plates and cut rings from them and stack the rings to make up the funnel blank. I figured out that if I cut a ring from one blank, then staggered the next ring from the other blank, and so on, I would have enough overlap between the layers to turn the funnel. Before gluing up the two ‘plates’, I realized that I would have a hard time cutting rings out of them once they were put together. I ended up making four half circles instead and cutting the rings on the band saw.
I”ll interject here that I’ve never done segmented turning before (so, I get a check mark for challenging myself with a new technique) and only did a little bit of research on it before diving in. I learned a few things in the process:
- cutting the segments precisely in the first place is easier than trying to shave one segment down to make it all fit nicely
- cutting the segments precisely in the first place makes the glue-up go much more smoothly
- ensuring the glue-up is completely flat makes assembling the rings go much more smoothly
- glue is not a substitute for a good joint
- inserting accent strips between segments would be a good idea to hide the glue line – or choose your glue with glue lines in mind
- once glued up the entire blank is a heck of a lot more stable than you’d think
I will probably try segmented turning again, but I’ll plan better and spend more time on it than I did with this one.
Once it was glued up, I put it on the lathe and decided to keep the outside ‘stepped’ to show the rings used. The inside I tried my best to turn into a rough hyperbolic funnel. I stopped a few times during the turning to try out a marble and was pleasantly surprised by the positive results each time. In the end, I don’t think the shape of the funnel makes too much difference, what really matters is that the marble come into it on a tangential angle and have as much speed as possible.
I did experience some tear-out and the very bottom section was the worst for this. In the picture above you can see that I lost a few small chunks in the process of turning it. So be it, I did a bit of repair and once the hole was drilled into the bottom it was not as noticeable.
Next up, more going down the drain as I figure out how to mount it.
After riding the rails around the tower, the marbles get to make some music.
After falling out of the rails the marbles will tumble down a xylophone staircase. This consists of a base which fits between two opposing uprights, a pair of stair supports that the xylophone keys are attached to and some dowels to keep the marbles corralled along the keys before guiding the marbles through a hole to drop into the next section.
This looked simple enough to build, but once again I found reference in the plans to double check my measurements as my tower may not be exactly the same size at the same height as the one in the plans. They were right and this was my first inkling that I was deviating from the plans (see the previous post where I talk about the mistakes made in the previous step).
Originally I thought I’d like to liven things up and paint the keys in bright colours to improve the appearance. I lightly sanded, primed and enamel painted the keys. They looked ok, but once I started running marbles across them, the paint began to show signs of distress. Eventually I got a paint chip come off one key and decided to strip them back down the bare metal and polish them up a bit.
The keys came with a small hardware kit that Lee Valley carried, consisting of the xylophone keys and a bell (which gets used later). The one flaw I have with the hardware kit was a lack of consideration for how the hardware was going to be attached. The xylophone keys need a spacer that will not dampen the ring of the key too much, I made some out of some hard plastic tubing and attached the keys with some nice shiny screws used in the auto industry to attach car interiors.
The next step was to be a spiral track made from thin plywood strips cut in a spiral and glued to a cross-member to act a bit like a funnel. Being interested in turning as well, I reached another point of delay while I debated whether or not to do as the plans called for, or try and turn a proper funnel.
Thanks Randy for pointing out the lack of photos on the workshop page. I’d been meaning to do this for a while, so I guess it’s time to stop procrastinating.
These are just a few basic shots around the shop with some explanations of what’s in each shot.
The shop is roughly 14′x17′ and is an enclosed space in my garage. Before you go into the workshop I’ve got a few things in the garage that relate:
Naturally I have a collection of Kenora Dinner Jackets (lumber shirts, plaid shirts, Norm-wear, call it what you like) to deal with the rather chilly winters. These are below the glittery handmade ‘Daddy’s Workshop’ sign that my daughter made.
Over to the left is the dust extraction system. The Rockler portable dust collector is hanging on the wall and is hooked directly into the Thein/Thien? separator that I built into an old garbage can. The staves on the outside do a pretty decent job of controlling the oil-can effect when the vac is on. Feeding directly into the garbage can is a duct that goes through the wall into the workshop where a 4″ hose is attached.
Looking ‘south’ at the entrance, I’ve got the double doors for the entrance (for big stuff). Note the dust collection hose hanging on the wall to the right. This works pretty well so far. I used to have a 2 1/2″ rigid hose system (ironically made by Ridgid) piped throughout the shop, but my shop vac didn’t have enough pull to work effectively, so I replaced it with this 4″ hose.
On the left is the dart board…doesn’t everyone have one in their shop?
Up above the tablesaw is my radiant heater, which really does do a decent job of taking the chill off of everything in the winter months. Up to the right is an ambient air filter, which does a remarkably good job of sucking out the fine dust in a short period of time….particularly when someone, who shall remain nameless at this time, routs dados in MDF….cough cough cough.
The door on the right has chalkboard paint on it and this has proven to be very handy for sketching up rough ideas, or posting dimensions that I need…or keeping score at darts.
Now you’re looking north from the entrance. The tablesaw is more or less built into the bench and the main bench acts as a permanent outfeed table as well as an assembly table. The bench itself consists of a couple of old hefty cabinets scavenged by my Dad years ago with a few layers of sheet goods on top. The sheet goods will eventually get replaced by a good solid top, but not just yet.
Down the right side is an old cabinet where I keep too much stuff, but primarily have my chop saw on it.
Across the back are shelving units in need of some serious reorganizing. One section has scrap lumber, one section has various hand power tools and my router table (which can be fitted into the workbench by removing a panel) along with a cabinet for glues/finishes/fasteners and assorted junk.
The floor is best seen in this picture too, it’s dri-core 2′x2′ squares with an interlocking rubber floor. This goes a long way to reducing fatigue in the winter…prior to this I stood on the concrete floor and got plenty of leg pain.
The west wall.
Working left to right I’ve got two rolling carts that I built out of plywood and MDF, one for the planer (which conveniently outfeeds onto the workbench/tablesaw when needed), the other for the drill press. The drawers in these are handy, they’ve got everything from drill bits, drills, planes, chisels to goggles, dust masks, etc.
To the right, under the window is the bench for the lathe. The regular lathe tools are up on a rack againsts the window. The cabinet underneath I have yet to organize into usable space…but I’ll likely convert this into drawerspace.
A bit farther to the right is an old laundry cabinet with my belt/disc sander and scrollsaw (not in the picture) with pegboard up behind it with a messy assortment of hand tools.
Looking at the east wall, I’ve got mostly cabinets and storage. The long wooden cabinet on the wall has a large collection of magazines and books on woodworking.
Finally on the east wall are some more cabinets and drawers filled with all assortments of things from tablesaw accessories to sandpaper, shopvac accessories to home renovation stuff (tiling and drywall tools). On the far right is the bandsaw. This was a gift from my neighbour (it’s an old Rockwell-Beaver 10″ bandsaw) who used to do a lot of woodworking but has since retired from the hobby…very lucky of me to get this.
So, that’s the 360 on the workshop. I have a few things on the go that I want to dig into in more detail in the blog and maybe do a video tour as well. More on that after I have time to get some of the clutter out of the way that has accumulated since these pictures were taken.
The joy and fascination of getting the marble dispensing mechanism working was kept in check by the finicky nature of the mechanism. Once attached to the tower I found that the tolerance for being off level was less than my tolerance for marbles cascading over the edges and scattering around the workshop. This was the second stage of procrastination.
Once I got over the fact that I would be revisiting the dispensing mechanism, I pushed forth to work on the guts of the tower. The next step was to attach rails around the inside edge of the tower on a slight decline, taking the marbles 360 degrees around the tower and dropping them into the next stage.
We’re back to compound miters again, but compound compound miters. In this stage, the Lee Valley errata suggests an easy out, instead of nestling the miters up against the joint to the rails, put a butt joint to the rails and have the miter joint out in the space between the rails. I did not heed this advice, thinking it sounded too wimpy. Next time, I’ll think about it more and maybe try out a couple before committing to doing it the hard way.
I fought with these miters for multiple sessions and finally found a system of making the initial cuts on a chop saw and fine tuning them on the stationary disk sander. Not terribly satisfying work, but once it was up and working, I was pretty happy with it.
At this point I learned that I had made a couple of mistakes.
1 – the coves for the rails should have been a bit deeper. I did follow the plans for this, but I believe there is plenty of material to have deeper coves which would result in the marbles staying on the rails more readily. When the marbles get up some speed on the rails there is a chance they will bounce off a corner and actually jump off the rails.
I took out some carving gouges and deepened the coves slightly at the corners and that has mostly solved the problem. If the final setup still has the problem I may take the advice laid out in the plans and put in some raised strips to deflect the marbles back onto the rails.
2 – I was a bit too generous with the downward angle of this section. This essentially had two negative effects. The first was the increased speed and potential to jump the rails, the second was that I had not eaten into the space for the sections below it. This comes back to bite me later as I compound the problem in a later stage as well. Duh!
Next up, music time!
I have to admit that once I got this working, I spent a lot of time giggling like a mad scientist while it dropped marble after marble through the mechanism.
The mechanism is finicky at best, but when it works it works magnificently. I have built the mechanism and attached it to the tower, but I believe it will come back off the tower at some point either for some further fine tuning or perhaps a more aesthetic way of being attached.
The mechanism consists of three main sections of rails attached to a plywood frame which is attached to the tower:
- The top section is fixed and holds the stash of marbles yet to be released.
- The second section in line consists of two components, the actual marble feeder (lifter) and an additional fixed section of rail.
- The final section is a pivoting rail that uses the weight of the marble to prime the feeder (lifter) with a new marble from the top section and upon rolling to the end of the rail and dropping through a hole, pivoting again to release the primed marble.
I have some ‘adjustments’ to make to get things working smoothly, including some bumpers to keep the marbles on the rails properly, or shift things a touch to the right, we’ll see what has to be done.
As I mentioned earlier, I’m not really that impressed with the piece of plywood spanning the tower to support this, I think a more elegant solution could be made and once I’ve completed the rest of the tower I will come back to this and revisit it.
While revisiting the attachment mechanism, I’m also going to work on the fine tuning. This works fine under ideal conditions, but if you shift it out of level by even a couple of degrees, the mechanism either gets stuck and won’t release marbles, or is unable to hold the marbles back and the act of priming a marble causes the whole lot to go flying down the rails causing general mayhem.
The marble tower, originally meant to be a homemade toy for my daughter (now ten), was rapidly becoming the butt of several jokes. Most of which involved it becoming a very odd wedding present due primarily to the length of time it was taking to be built. This pales in comparison to the glider chair that remains a sad looking glider footstool on a shelf in my workshop…meant as a gift for my then pregnant wife (11 years ago)…now looking more like a retirement gift. But, I digress…I will revel in the fact that I have made the marble tower a priority to finish before my daughter enters those fearful teenage years.
I reviewed the plans that I bought for this toy here.
The plans, and the Lee Valley errata sheet, suggest milling up most of the lumber first in oversized pieces and cut them down to size as needed. I’m an impatient person when it comes to this, but I’m learning the value of doing this step once. I took their advice and did most of the leg work up front.
The majority of the tower is made up from 4/4 ash. I chose ash for a couple of basic reasons. First, I already had it and had no specific plans for it. Second, I had never worked with ash before and wanted to expand my experience with more hardwoods, having spent most of my time working with softwoods, maple and oak. Lastly, from a practical point of view, this was a toy that would likely get some abuse, so the stronger the wood, the better.
The entire milling process was not that complex, mostly running the rough stock through the jointer and planer to get it to the nominal size called for in the plans. The one exception to this was the need for something in the neighbourhood of 18′ of marble track rails. These needed to be 7/8″ wide by 3/4″ thick strips with a cove routed out of them to allow the marble to run smoothly along the rails.
With the pile of lumber and rails ready to go, I set about building the basic frame. This consists of a hexagonal base with six uprights held together at the top with 6 stretchers, all held together with pocket holes. Getting the hexagonal plywood base correct was easier than I thought, but did require a bit of test cutting to get the angle right and some very conservative creeping up on the cut line. The uprights are straightforward, but do have a slight angle to tilt them inwards (roughly 5 degrees). The stretchers introduced compound angles into the equation…not something I recommend to anyone! Unless of course, you own a compound miter saw…which I do not. These turned out to be less challenging than first appearance.
I did not think at the time that I would be blogging about this, so I did not take pictures. So, bear with me as I show more progress in the pictures than is covered in the text.
The one additional piece added at this stage was the handle spanning the top.
The tower sat in the state of having the basic framing done until I had figured out how to get the marble feed mechanism to work. I could not fully grasp how it worked from reading the plans, so I had to go on faith and built it to see what makes it work. More on that in the next post.