Woodworking in the great white north.

Archive for June, 2010

Father’s day gift

Earlier this year, my wife and I had agreed that we’d make gift giving between the two of us a bit more low-key this year as we’d gone out and bought his and hers kayaks. As a result, I had really expected a minimalist approach to Father’s day.

So, Sunday morning my 9 year old daughter came bouncing into the bedroom with a parcel and a card. Amongst the small things that I had figured would make up the minimalist approach that my wife and I had agreed upon, was a wrapped package that looked about the size, weight and feel of a magazine.

I carefully tore into the wrapping paper (following the explicit instructions of my daughter – “tear it open Daddy….oh, but be careful too”). To my delight I found myself presented with the latest issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine. I have a penchant for woodworking magazines and have scaled back to a Fine Woodworking subscription which I eagerly dive into when it arrives….so I was thrilled to have a bonus magazine in my hands.

I was then told that there was something else in the magazine that I had to find. I carefully flipped page after page looking for a clue. When I reached the last page I found an IOU card strategically placed on the back leaf of the magazine partially obscuring an advertisement for Woodworking In America 2010.

I guess I talk a lot more about these things than I realize, as the IOU was there to cover an all expense paid trip to Woodworking in America in Cincinnati. I was completely bowled over by this. I had joked around about going, to the point of determining that the shortest route from Toronto is about a 9 hour drive. I think I spent most of the day in a bit of a daze, as I don’t think it really sunk in right away that I was actually going to go. It may seem ridiculous but I view something like this as a very selfish guilty pleasure.

By mid-afternoon, I could not resist taking the time to go online and register. Even throughout the act of filling in the registration I had a feeling of being in a dream that I was about to wake up from. I pinched myself just to make sure.

All that said, I am now enrolled in all kinds of awesome sessions with the likes of Chris Schwarz, Michael Fortune, Roy Underhill….the list goes on like a who’s who of woodworking.

Now comes the hard part….waiting 3 months for the day to come when I get to embark on a weekend adventure in woodworking on a level to which I have never been exposed and hopefully I will take away from it a whole new appreciation for the skills that can be developed in design and execution of woodworking techniques.

This ranks up there as one of the best surprises I’ve ever gotten.

Marble tower – the plans (review)

Several years ago, when my daughter was a toddler, I came across a set of plans to build a child’s marble tower. Having a young child at home, I felt it was my duty to get these plans along with the hardware kit that accompanies them and build it.

This is a picture of the Lee Valley flyer showing what the final project ‘might’ look like.

At the time I was under the misconception that working from a purchased set of plans was smarter and easier than building your own plans/ideas. My rationale being that someone who has built this item and was commanding money for the plans would have thought it through thoroughly and worked out all the kinks in the plans before publishing them. I’m not saying the plans are bad, but let’s just say that they could be improved upon.

Here’s roughly what you get:

The plans consist of 3 double pages with writing and scale drawings on both sides. In addition to this, Lee Valley had the forethought to include a page with errata on it and their own suggestions for modifying the plans. While I have not implemented all of what the good folks at Lee Valley suggest, some of it was certainly helpful and saved some potentially bad moves in cutting pieces undersized.

I’ll try to break down the plans into various parts for review:
Instructions: D+ The instructions are laid out in a the order in which you build the project, so it’s fairly easy to just work away at them in the order they are presented. I find the instructions to be overly wordy and try to describe in several sentences what would very easily be conveyed by a good picture/diagram. One other nitpick is with the naming conventions. Parts are not labeled consistently. In some cases a part is given a name as well as a label (part F aka the xylophone base) which is somewhat confusing. In addition, part assemblies (the xylophone) are not given a part number as an assembly, creating a bit more confusion.

Diagrams: C The plans are primarily templates for cutting out the various parts. There are many diagrams that can be used to trace out parts and for the most part these are accurate and work well. One glaring omission was the lack of a picture of the final assembled piece. There was a single drawing of this, in one perspective, but this did not allow for a clear view of how the assemblies went together. Additionally, having a set of measurements for the height at which the different assemblies are to be attached to the tower would have been immensely helpful.

Accuracy: C+ Given the sheer number of bits and pieces in the entire assembly, the accuracy is pretty good. One improvement that could be made here is to teach the consumer about relative measurements. Someone may have gotten the angles just slightly off in assembling the main structure, which will throw off pretty much all of the templates where they span from one side rail to another. Informing the user that they should measure the span between X and Y rails at Z height would at least inform them that they are slightly too big or too small for the template and allow for adjustments. (Yes, I got tripped up by this)

Complexity/Skill needed: B- The complexity in this entire project is primarily in cutting the compound angles. For many parts, the angles are devilishly awkward to get just right. I struggled to get the first run of marble track around the outside to fit nicely. You have the joint between adjacent pieces (should be 60 degrees)….but that also has to be inclined to allow the marble to roll, and it butts up against the side rail which is a few degrees off square as well. Lots of trial and error needed here.
Aside from the compound angles, I have not found anything that required any great skill to get it right.

Tools needed:
A router for sure, to make the marble tracks.
A bandsaw is indispensible for this, many pieces benefit from the use of a bandsaw.
A miter saw or better yet a compound miter saw (I lack the latter, so I managed with the former)

Summary: C-
I started planning to work on this quite a while ago and got somewhat overwhelmed trying to understand how it was all going to work, so I procrastinated. Not so long ago, but certainly not recently, I started working on this project. I managed to get the initial frame built and start working on the assemblies from the top down. At times I had to stop and leave it for a while out of frustration, but I’m back on it now and determined to finish it up before I start anything new.
I have had my share of problems with the plans and my final project will not be exactly the same as what the plans call for, but all in all it has taught me a valuable lesson when it comes to buying plans. Just because you pay for it, doesn’t mean you are done paying for it. 🙂

Poll: What do you look for in a woodworking blog?

It’s probably been about a year now since I started following woodworking blogs, listening to podcasts and exploring the world of online woodworking.  I find that my own interests in what people have to say varies quite a bit, for the most part I read a few blogs because the authors can write well, tell interesting stories and give me something to think about or try out.  On other occasions, such as when my tablesaw died, I spent a good chunk of time frantically reading tablesaw reviews and getting as much info as I could…but this is not something I try to do regularly…I have enough trouble keeping money in the bank vs in the pockets of the Lee family of Lee Valley fame.

So, I ask, what do you look for in a woodworking blog?


As much as I’d like to be in the workshop building something out of wood, I find that much of my time is being eaten up by repairs, renovations and general maintenance on our 60 year old house.  So, why not blog about that since the woodworking side of things is taking a backseat?

The main job right now is a renovation of our laundry/furnace room.

Why we’re doing it:  shortly after buying the house we found that previous tenants had let mice live in the basement ceiling…so a major basement renovation took place, cleaning out the whole space.  The laundry room took a backseat to the rest of the living space, and so it sat for a few years.  In the meantime, a drainage problem outside started a problem with water getting into the basement laundry room.  This forced our hands a little further, pulling up all of the peel and stick tiles and eventually the ugly plastic tiles that were all crumbling after intermittent flooding in the laundry room.

We finally decided to focus on this and try and get it done right.

What we have to do:

– fix the drainage problems outside (done last year)

– gut the rest of the laundry room and assess what has to be done in terms of repairs (done earlier this year)

– repair the studs that were water damaged, replacing them with those new fangled blue boards (done a few weeks ago)

– remove the tar-like mastic that held the bottom layer of tiles to the floor (done a few weeks ago with great pain and suffering)

– etch the floor to take a mortar bond (done a few weeks ago)

– install ceramic tiles (done this past weekend, just have to seal the grout and I’m done!)

– rewire some of the lighting and outlets (done a couple of weeks ago)

Now…what else is coming in the near future:

– install a laundry chute from the upstairs linen closet

– install a proper dryer vent (means I get to buy a hammer drill…yay!)

– rework the plumbing for the sink and the washer

– insulate the ceiling and install the ceiling tiles (drop ceiling)

– insulate the walls and install drywall

– replace the existing window with a new one

– make custom cabinets (lots of them!!!…ergo, more time in the workshop)

– install the cabinets and sink

– install trim and paint

It never ceases to amaze me how a few words ‘renovate the laundry room’ can actually translate into so much work!  I’m not sure how long this is actually going to take to complete, but it should be nice when it’s done.

I’ll be sure to come back with a before picture and maybe some interim pictures of the progress to date.