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It’s not every tool purchase that starts with cheese, but that’s what happened here. My sister was so enthused by her Microplane cheese graters that she wondered if other Microplane tools were as spectacular. On Christmas day, I opened a mysterious package [...]
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admin on August 14th, 2008
You might have noticed that I usually really like my tools. With very few exceptions, I research my tools carefully and then love them dearly. This is one of those exceptions.
The story goes something like this: I was painting a piece of furniture and started with a little foam roller. After several coats of paint with the roller, I was frustrated by texture differences at the roller edges. Even I think that sounds absurd now. For some curious reason, I decided that a brush might do better. I think my logic went something like, “Sure there will be brush marks, but those add character! As long as all the brush marks are in the same direction, it’ll look great.” Wrong. The brushed surface looked much worse than the roller, and so I sanded. Rather than go back to the roller, I began looking for a sprayer.
Good HVLP sprayers are pretty expensive, and I’m pretty cheap. Air sprayers require a pretty healthy compressor, which I currently lack (See “pretty cheap”, above). Whilst at Home Depot one day, I saw the apparent solution to all of my problems: a $60 all-in-one self-contained paint sprayer! What could be better? I can’t remember now if I bought it on the spot or thought about it for awhile, but I now own a “Wagner Spray Tech Power Painter - Home“.
My first adventure was with straight, uncut, black latex paint. While I can’t say I ever had great luck with the “Power Painter”, this was especially bad, and I deserved it. Apparently, anyone who knows anything about paint knows that you can’t spray pure latex paint, and you’re supposed to “cut” it with “Floetrol” or the like, which sounds like something you add to a sports car, a toilet, or a senior citizen with an enlarged prostate, but it’s not. You can read all about what Floetrol actually does at the link above, but my take is that it thins the paint and helps it stick somehow. The good news is that Floetrol really does help and results in an almost usable “Power Painter”. Almost.
Even after lots of experimentation with Floetrol mixtures and different paints, I never got a single satisfactory coat of paint out of this sprayer. For a few seconds, things would be looking great and then, without warning, a big loogie (I really couldn’t think of a more effective description) of paint would sail out the nozzle, splat onto the workpiece, and immediately start drooping. I’ve recently noticed similar complaints for other Wagner Power Painter models.
As you might have guessed, all of this resulted in lots more sanding, hand wringing, and eventually rolling again with the little foam roller.
I suspect that somewhere out there, someone is about to start painting a fence or outbuilding for which the Wagner Power Painter would be just dandy. For furniture that you plan to look at, not so much. I’ve read other reviews that end with someone smashing the tool in question with a big hammer to celebrate the end of the test, but I’m holding off. Someday I might just have a fence or outbuilding that needs painting…
admin on August 13th, 2008
Recently, I wrote a brief review of the Dewalt DW735 planer. After my initial post, it occurred to me that I had missed something quite important. Recall, the DW735 is a “portable” planer, which is a really positive spin on “you don’t get a stand”. I don’t know about you, but my workshop suffers from a shortage of bench or table space, which means that the DW735 was initially a real thorn in my side. You can buy the DW7350 base from Dewalt, but the base, the absolutely essential DW7351 infeed and outfeed tables, and the planer sum up to about $700, which requires special wife funding approval (for me, at least).
As it turns out, it’s pretty easy to make a good solid base for the DW735. The trickiest part is the part that fits on the bottom of the planer. I made one out of 3/4″ plywood that fits snugly up inside the cast aluminum base of the DW735. At right is a dimensioned drawing of my base, which I drew in Google Sketchup 6. If you’re familiar with Sketchup, I have included my model file here. I cut the whole thing on my table saw, but a jig saw might work better for some of the nooks and crannies.
Originally, I planned to bolt the planer to the plywood base using the holes in the DW735’s aluminum bottom, but with the planer’s considerable heft and because the entire plywood base fits up inside the aluminum base, there was little concern of it jumping off the base and onto the floor.
With my plywood base in order, I set about building the stand for the planer. This really isn’t fancy, but it does the trick nicely. I used some old 2×4’s I had laying around, some scraps of plywood, glue, and pocket hole screws. On the picture at right, the planer feed direction is from right to left. You can see here, and in the next photo, that the piece of plywood we talked so much about only fits under the middle of the planer. The two strips of 3/4″ plywood under the base fit under the wider part of the planer, and are 19.5″ by 2.5″ wide, while the whole stand is 20.5″ wide for a little extra stability.
I finished the stand off with 1/8″ hardboard on the front and back, mostly because I had some around. I think the hardboard also stiffened things up a little, but I’m not sure about that. The bag of Quikrete is key, as the heavy planer on a light stand was a bit top heavy.
I realize, of course, that I won’t be winning any design awards for this thing. It’s not especially pretty, but the price was right (pretty much free) and it’s really stable. The whole stand took me a rainy afternoon, got the planer out of my way, and finally created a place for the one bag of Quikrete left over from my deck project.
admin on August 9th, 2008
On a recent long drive, I stayed awake by making a mental list of tools I hope never to live without. While the full contents of list are still a bit hazy (more to follow, rest assured), I am absolutely certain that one of the top entries will be a table saw. When I bought a house a few years ago and finally had room for a table saw, I didn’t have much experience with one, but knew that it had to beat a circular saw for ripping long or narrow boards. Once assembled, I grew so fond of making quick, precise, and blissfully repeatable cuts that I made my wife promise not to make me choose between her and my table saw.
As usual, I also didn’t have much money (see “I just bought a house”, above) and was therefore in search of a really great value, which lead me directly to the Ridgid TS3650. I personally believe this saw to be pretty much in a league of its own as far as value, and others seem to agree.
While I won’t rehash these reviews, I’ll mention that this sucker is really heavy at about 270 lbs., most of that in one totally unmanageable box. Apparently, Ridgid has recently made a few changes, repackaged the saw in a single box (from two), renamed it the TS3650, and changed the shipping weight to an even 300 lbs. Personally, I had to unpack the box in the garage and carry it to my basement shop one piece at a time. If you bench press locomotives for sport, maybe you’ll do better.
Next, I’ll suggest that you immediately throw away the blade that comes with the saw and buy a really great one. I’m a big fan of the Freud blades, specifically the LU84R and the LM72R. Before I upgraded the blade, I was pretty happy with the saw. Immediately afterward, I was consistently able to make glassy smooth cuts in the hardest woods, honest-to-goodness splinter-free cuts in plywood, and burn-free rips through thick hardwoods. Ah, bliss.
Perhaps my next suggestion will be more obvious to the world than it was to me, but for Pete’s sake, connect your shop vac up to the dust port under the saw. For quite some time after I got my saw, I cut boards with eyes squinted behind safety glasses and lips pursed against the bombardment of sawdust that blasted at me and pretty much everywhere else. After I noticed the mound of sawdust conveniently located under the dust port, I figured I’d give it a shot. What a difference! Now, the vast majority of dust goes down the hatch and I can actually cut boards with my eyes open (still behind safety glasses, of course).
Finally, I will mention that my saw came out of the box with the blade slightly out of alignment with the rip fence and slots in the table. This is fixed by loosening the trunnions from the cast-iron table and wiggling a little lever at the back of the saw. It’s not exactly difficult, but does require some patience and persistence. A good article on aligning blades on contractor saws is here.
As I consider what I have written here and what is certainly one of my favorite tools, it occurs to me that there are tons of features I haven’t addressed. Those that spring into my mind include the really solid, deflection-free rip fence, flat cast-iron tables, a remarkably unobtrusive splitter, and the Herc-U-Lift base. Fortunately, plenty has been written about all of these features and others. Browse through the links in this post and see what others have said. When you’re through, I believe you’ll have reached the same conclusion that I have. If you do find a better saw for the money, let me know!
admin on August 5th, 2008
One of the first power tools I purchased was a cheap circular saw. This seemed a reasonable thing to do at the time, as I had little spare change and a small apartment that didn’t present much opportunity for sawing. I’m pretty sure I never made a straight or satisfactory cut with that saw. The base was spongy, the plastic depth adjustment lever broke the first time I used the saw, and there was some sort of plastic aiming device that was effective only for scratching everything it touched.
When I decided to build a deck last year, I realized that the project budget could be stretched just slightly to include a new circular saw. And a new jig saw. And a reciprocating saw. Well, you get the idea. As you might guess after the description of my old circular saw, one of my priorities was eliminating as many cheap plastic parts as possible. I went to stores, removed blades, adjusted depths, told “helpful” employees I’d find them if I needed help, held the saws over my head to test the weight, adjusted the angle of the base, told more employees to go away, etc. In the end, my favorite saw was the Dewalt DW368 light-weight circular saw.
The difference between my old piece of crap and the Dewalt DW368 is nothing short of spectacular. The base is one big magnesium casting that is wonderfully rigid, and all of the adjustments are rock solid. A couple of other favorite items are the bevel adjustment with detents at 22.5° and 45° and the sawdust deflector built into the blade guard. The detents make cutting accurate bevels possible, if still not exactly a breeze, and the sawdust deflector is so sneaky I didn’t even know it was there until I was sawing and a beam of sawdust shot off to the right side and out of the way.
I feel obliged to say something about the motor being strong enough or something like that, but to be honest I never really noticed, which just might be the highest praise there is. I sawed lots of stuff, from nasty wet pressure-treated 2×12’s to composite decking to furniture-grade plywood, and the saw never bogged down or let out so much as a hiccup.
Reflecting on all of the thought I put into the purchase of this saw, it is clear to me now that any of the higher-end circular saws on the market would have probably met my needs. I’m happy with this saw because it’s precise, light weight, and extremely well built. It’s also pretty affordable, at around $100.
admin on August 1st, 2008
I realize that this post is somewhat outside the normal content for a site with “workshop” in its name, but I’ve felt this post boiling inside me since I found the first little green sprout of evil in my garden. The year following that discovery has seen endless battles, with both gardener and weed declaring success several times, only to have the enemy reorganize and come back nastier and more committed than ever. Right now, I have beaten the horsetail in my garden back to where I can rest for a few weeks, which is the only reason I have time to write this post.
Horsetail is also known as field or common horsetail, equisetum arvense, bottle brush, and a whole bunch of other innocent sounding names, but don’t let that fool you. Horsetail is really an entirely diabolical weed that is completely invulnerable to being pulled out of the ground (it has super deep roots and tubers) and to most herbicides. I first realized how much trouble I was in when on the first couple of forums I found, responses to inquiries about horsetail usually started something like “Ooh, that’s too bad” or “You have my deepest sympathies”.
The picture above shows both forms that horsetail takes. I’m not a plant expert and am therefore unable to decode most of what this website says, but I think the gist is that the green stalks are sterile and the brown stalks are fertile. The fancy cones on the end of the brown stalks are actually some sort of seed or spore pod, and should therefore not be smashed. Better yet, there’s a sort of backup reproduction system involving a huge network of underground roots. Do you begin to see why I think horsetail is the spawn of the devil?
My personal battle with horsetail started the way most battles do: with blissful ignorance. I saw a weed and I pulled it. The next day there were two, which I pulled. The next day, well, you get the idea. By the time I started researching, there was quite a lot of horsetail. I sprayed it with Roundup and it actually seemed to grow faster. I cultivated the ground and pulled out a bucket of roots and it appeared again almost immediately. It eventually appeared not only in my garden, but also in the yard, and I knew I was in trouble.
The good news, if there is good news, is that there are a couple of things that do seems to really slow horsetail down. One of them is vinegar, which I admit I didn’t try, and the other is any herbicide containing 2,4D, which is a widely-available broadleaf weed killer that sounded nastier to me than vinegar. With 2,4D, the trick is to spray all of the horsetail you can see, after which it turns brown and looks really dead (see picture at right). It’s not, of course, because it’s evil. Then you have to pull out all of the dead-looking stuff and wait. A few days later, new shoots appear and you have to be ready to blast them, wait, pull out the dead stuff, and wait again. I discovered this process a few months ago and I’m happy to report that the frequency of the new shoots appearing has decreased and the time it takes for them to work back to the surface has increased.
Before I congratulate myself too much, it’s more than likely that evil roots of horsetail are simply regrouping, developing a new strategy, and one day I’ll come home from work to find my whole house enveloped by 2,4D resistant horsetail. Such is life in times of war…
admin on July 23rd, 2008
I love my router. I just had to get that out of the way up front, so I don’t feel like I’m cheating. A few years ago, I purchased a 2 1/4 hp Bosch 1617EVS router that must be one of the most popular routers on the market, and for good reason. That router has always done everything I’ve asked of it and really hasn’t complained much. The only times I haven’t been entirely thrilled were when I was trying to hold my big router flat on a small, delicate part that I couldn’t bring to my router table for some reason. At those times, guiding a full-size router feels a little like giving a cat a bath: lots of wiggling and squirming, high blood pressure all around, and decidedly poor results. I distinctly recall thinking during one of those early adventures (with the router, no cats) that there must be a better way.
There is, and as soon as I saw a laminate trimmer, I knew that was it. Unfortunately, it took me a few years to work up to purchasing one. When I did, I conducted the normal search of likely alternatives. My favorites were the Ridgid R2400 and the Bosch PR20EVSK, but in the end I really liked the Bosch’s micro-adjust fixed base. Hang on, though, I’ll rave about that later.
When you open the box, the first thing that really strikes you is that the Colt bears an amusing likeness to the full-size 1617EVS router. Shortly after I got the Colt, I was using it in the presence of my wife, who I sort of forgot to inform of my purchase. She stared, somewhat puzzled, at the little router before deciding that my old router must have shrunk.
Out of the box, the Colt acts just like you might guess a little router would: It handles very easily and with no drama. The best part by a long shot is the micro-adjust base. Start out with a coarse adjustment and get pretty close, then hold the motor and rotate the base (or vice versa) a few degrees and the micro-adjust mechanism clicks into place. Then, a little thumb wheel rotates the motor relative to the body for an easy, precise adjustment. That might sound a little complicated, but in practice it works brilliantly.
One of my favorite websites, www.newwoodworker.com, actually reviewed the Colt twice: once with the micro-adjust base and again in “kit” form that includes three bases (including the micro-adjust) and lots of goodies. Tool Snob reviewed the micro-adjust model as well.
I now love two routers, but there’s plenty of love to go around. I hope to leave my big router mounted to its table most of the time and use the Colt for hand-held routing. The only small drawback that I can see is that I own almost entirely 1/2″ router bits, and I’m not too excited about buying a matching set of 1/4″ bits. That said, what could one more multi-colored box hurt…
admin on July 21st, 2008
For a non-professional wood worker, buying a planer is a big deal. Cheap ones are flimsy and promise horrendous snipe, rough surfaces, and endless sanding. More expensive planers are, well, expensive. In the middle is the Dewalt DW735, a well-designed, reasonably priced, relatively portable, two-speed, three-blade planer that promises glassy smooth surfaces and virtually no snipe. As you might expect, no tool has ever entered my shop with higher hopes and expectations.
For the most part, the DW735 delivers. The two-speed transmission and three-blade cutter head add up to 179 cuts per inch, which leads to super smooth surfaces. The DW735 also has an absurdly powerful blower built in that removes chips from the cutting surface and forcibly ejects those chips from the back of the planer (more on this later). The scale on the right side of the infeed is easy to read, precise, and perfectly calibrated out of the box. The “depthometer” on the front of the unit is extremely useful, as it tells you how much you’re about to attempt to remove.
If you’ve looked around the internet for the DW735, you might have noticed that it’s often pictured with shiny, flip-up infeed and outfeed tables. That’s because it’s mostly useless without them. Plan on $50 for the pair.
People seem to refer to the DW735 and other planers in its class as “portable”. I guess that’s technically true in the same sense that buildings, bulldozers, and boulders are portable. I’ve personally found the 92 lb. cube to be unpleasant to move and I hope not to for a long time.
Three of the most contentious features of the DW735 are the $50-$75 “disposable” blades. Many have stated that the blades were ruined within a few board feet of brand new, while others claim to plane thousands of board feet without replacing the blades. My experience is somewhere in between. After observing that the blades are quite flimsy, I committed to minimize stress on them by using the lower feed speed for hard woods and taking off only around 1/32″ to 1/16″ per pass. If you’re really nervous about the blades, take comfort in that Infinity Cutting Tools sells high speed steel (HSS) blades for the DW735 that can be resharpened.
I don’t consider myself to be a wimp when it comes to noisy tools, but the DW735 is light-fixture-shaking, spouse-irritating, neighbor-waking loud. Easily the loudest tool I own, I believe that any use without hearing protection would certainly result in instant hearing loss and a serious headache.
If you don’t own a dust collector, the DW735 (or any planer for that matter) presents something of a problem. I hooked the planer up to my 12 gallon shop vac only to realize that the blower in the planer has more blowing whoop than my shop vac has sucking whoop. I also tried a fancy cyclone trashcan lid, which relies on suction to stay stuck to the trashcan. The DW735 made short work of that idea, blowing the lid clean off the can, even with the shop vac running. In short, you need a dust collector. If you just considered letting the chips fly, I don’t recommend it. I planed a short walnut board with the included diffuser about 6 months ago and I’m still finding little brown chips.
In the end, the DW735 is a solid value, offering more features, capability, and quality than anything in its price range, but given the opportunity for a redo, I might hold out for a more expensive, “stationary” unit with an induction motor and blades that are meant to last. You can find another review at newwoodworker.com.
admin on July 20th, 2008
Project Cost: $100 (cost of fan)
Time Required: 1.5 hrs
After two years of looking for just the right ceiling fan, my wife and I walked into Home Depot the other day and left two minutes later with a fancy Hunter fan unit, pictured below.
I approached this project with a hint of trepidation, with visions of holding a heavy fan over my head with one skinny arm and frantically twisting wires together with the other. As it turns out, many other homeowners must have had similar concerns, as manufacturers such as Hunter have done everything possible to avoid that scenario. Simplifying matters further, our relatively new house is pre-wired for ceiling fans in many rooms. Based on the complexity of the tutorial on the DIY Network for installing a ceiling fan from scratch, I think I caught a break.
I see little value in repeating the installation manual, so I’ll only humor you with exceptions and follies.
First, their are about 30 screws in maybe five little plastic bags, but there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason as to which screw is in what bag. It’s a free-for-all.
Next, the instructions have an actual size illustration of each screw next to the part of the instructions where you’re supposed to use that screw, but I didn’t have any screws that matched the illustrations.
Third, there are several big screws that actually attach a mounting bracket to the ceiling. The instructions make it look like the holes in the mounting bracket should line up nicely with some holes in your electrical box in the ceiling. They don’t. In the end, I had to make one hole in the electrical box and one right next to it, which worked out OK, but was pretty annoying.
Fourth, the instructions gloss over the fact that this fan can be flush mounted, hang from a pole, or be mounted “normally”, which I think just means that it hangs from a really short pole. In the end, I missed some steps and had to back up. Generally, not a big deal.
Finally, and perhaps most annoying, the blades were damaged in the box (see the photo below). Not just one blade, but all of them were scratched and dented on one side. I seriously considered taking the whole thing back, but since I was almost finished when I unpacked the blades and I planned to use the other side, I didn’t. The lesson here is to look at all of the parts carefully before hanging the blasted fan.
In the end, the whole project took less than two hours, resulted in a happy wife, and made a fan-tastic (sorry) difference keeping our bedroom cool, even with the air conditioning on. Also, any frustration I might have had with Hunter for somewhat sub-standard installation instructions are more than made up for by surprisingly silent and vibration free operation.
admin on July 20th, 2008
Well, here goes.
The Wayward Workshop is getting started because every home improvement or woodworking project that I have started has reached completion via a winding route that included every possible mistake. Enough people have assured me that all of those mistakes must certainly be making me wiser that I have decided to share that wisdom with the world.
The Wayward Workshop will also feature “reviews” of assorted tools. My wife will attest that my obsession with tools knows no bounds and mysteriously leads to a steady flow of multicolored boxes into my workshop. Once there, my tools receive a thorough testing that usually results in a strong opinion one way or the other. Hopefully, the Wayward Workshop will provide an outlet for my obsession that helps others to find great tools and avoid, well, less great tools.
As long as you’re here, feel free to share your opinions, suggestions, and tips or just say hi!