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Archive for the ‘Project’ Category

Microplane Rasps

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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 containing several Microplane wood rasps. You might note, however, that these don’t look much like any other rasp you’ve ever seen, so there was an awkward moment of trying to determine why my sister thought I needed several sizes of really beefy cheese graters.

Once I worked it out, I was quite pleased, but also a little stumped. What would I do with a couple of funny looking rasps? I’m really more of a power tool sort of guy. If a corner or edge needs to be rounded, I look for a router bit, not a rasp or a plane. Thus, the Microplane rasps came home with me and hung on my pegboard for several months and collected dust.

Fast forward a few months and I was experimenting with some crown molding. Coping crown molding is something that has haunted me a bit for several years. Sure, the experts make it look easy, but remember I’m not much of a hand tool guy. Rest assured that a full report on my crown molding exploits is forthcoming, but for now let’s just say that the first few attempts did not go well. I did my best with a miter saw and coping saw, but my early efforts never actually fit.

In a moment of particular despair, I looked heavenward and right at the Microplanes hanging on the pegboard. Hmm. Until this time, I had never actually improved anything with a hand tool, but I was really getting desperate. I grabbed the big round Microplane and started shaving away the back of the molding that was interfering with my fit.

First, I was shocked at how quickly and cleanly the Microplanes cut. My previous adventures with rasps were with ancient, rusty, handed-down monsters that sort of abused the workpiece until it gave up. These are entirely different tools, quickly and easily removing material with very little force.

Next, and much more startling, I had a perfect-fitting coped crown molding cut in maybe five minutes. I finally made something better with a hand tool! As I practiced more, I got even better. I used the large round rasp to remove the bulk of interfering material and then cleaned out nooks and crannies with the small round and small square rasp.

These are affordable and extremely effective rasps. If you’re new to woodworking and looking for a confidence-boosting hand tool experience, look no further. If your some sort of wizard, I can only imagine what you might do with such a tool. Actually, let me know!

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Wagner Home Paint Sprayer

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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…

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Dewalt DW735 Stand Base Template

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.

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The Evil Weed (Horsetail)

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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…

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Installing a Ceiling Fan

Project Cost: $100 (cost of fan)
Time Required: 1.5 hrs
Tools Required:

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.

Fan in a box

Placeholder for Fan

Under the Cover

Blurry Dangling Fan

Damaged Fan Blad

Feel the breeze

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