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Archive for August, 2008

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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Ridgid TS3650 Table Saw

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!

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Dewalt DW368 Circular Saw

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.

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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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