Monday, September 15, 2008

Making My Own Tools - The Street Sweeper Tine

Quite a few months ago, while crossing a parking lot, a glint of metal caught my eye. I picked it up and gave it a quick examination. It was about 1/8" wide, around 1/16" to 1/32" thick, and a little more than 5" long. One end of it was square, like it had been broken off after repeated flexing back and forth. The other end was rounded, like a single-edge knife blade.

I stared at it for 10 seconds or so before I realized what it was - a tine from a street sweeper brush.

I wondered if I might be able to put it to good use, so I stuck it in my backpack and continued on my way. Ever since then, I'll glance down every now and again when I'm walking through a parking lot to see if I can spot any more. As of now, I have a collection of about seven or eight tines of various lengths - most of them are six inches long or longer.

I don't know if the metal will hold an edge. It feels a lot like spring steel, which makes me think it might. So one of the first things I need to do is take a diamond stone to one of them and see what kind of edge I can put on it. If that works, then maybe I'd be able to put them in a handle and create some small chisel-like tools for cleaning out detailed areas of carvings or removing bits from string inlay channels.

If they're thin enough, maybe I could figure out some way to sharpen up the shortest edge and use it to help with running string inlays by holding it in a scratch stock.

If they don't hold an edge, I wonder if I might be able to use them in some sort of leather work. I'd like to some day try my hand at making a sporran - maybe I could use the tines as ribs or "stays" like they have in shirt collars, like for the sporran flap. Or in some other part of the construction where it would be useful to maintain the shape.

I like the idea of trying to take something like that and putting it to good use. Maybe you can think of something I haven't? If so, let me know. I'd be interested in your thoughts.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Changing Of The Guard...

Yesterday evening I attended the monthly planning meeting for the Saint Louis Woodworking Guild. It was a momentous occasion, to say the least! The gentleman who has written our newsletter for the past 17 years has decided to hang up his pen, so to speak. He's tired of writing newsletters; he wants to spend more time in the shop and less time in front of the computer. Incidentally, this coincides with our website administrator's desire to hand off the website maintenance to someone else!

Of course, this didn't all just come up that evening. It is something I've known about for a few months now. It is something our new guild president (a friend of mine, Scott), the new guild secretary (a friend of the president, Matt), another guild member who does website design (Michael), and I have been waiting for.

Not to take anything away from the hard work these two gentlemen have done over the years, but both the newsletter and the website are a bit stale at the moment. The newsletter is written in the format of:
- Brief introduction of what is going on at the next meeting
- Long, detailed (almost verbatim) description of the main presentation at the previous meeting
- A letter from the President
- Very wordy "Library" section on one or two books (just short of being a book itself, honestly)
- Brief overview of miscellaneous things that happened after or before the last presentation (show-and-tell, announcements, items for sale or wanted to buy)

The website was designed years ago with some off-the-shelf web development software that isn't very user-friendly and is a bit behind the times. It's difficult to navigate and it looks, well, "old". It has had a lot of Band-aids applied to it, and they're starting to peel off.

The meeting took place in the back room of a restaurant/bar. I was just a few minutes late, so most everyone else was seated when I arrived. Upon entering the room, I looked at Scott and Michael and Matt and smiled. I could smell it in the air; the time was ripe for change!

The first 20 minutes of the meeting were spent skirting the main topics, but soon we were discussing newsletter and website ideas in fury and earnest.

We talked about things like:
- reducing our mailing costs by sending a link to a .pdf via e-mail
- reformatting the newsletter to increase readability, add relevant material, and cut verbose sections down to a manageable size
- reformatting the website for easier navigation
- add individual member sections where they can update profiles and contact info, pay for their membership fees, and add project images
- how to deal with delinquent members and membership expiration

I was surprised by several things; one is that so many of the board members were excited about the changes and ideas we brought up, but another is how opposed to change one or two of the board members were. One even said we could create the newsletter in .pdf, but he still wanted it mailed to everyone and he wanted it to look exactly like the old newsletters.

Wow - that's progressive.

(I was glad to see everyone else quickly shoot down that idea.)

In the end, it was a really good meeting. The worst part about it was the terrible service from our waiter. He was more intent on taking his smoke breaks than doing things like bringing us our drinks or the bill.

I've started brainstorming for newsletter ideas, from new sections I think might be fun or informative to ways we can keep the content exciting and new. Some of them are existing sections I think we can keep, but most of them are new. Here they are:
- Featured Member
- Letter from the Editor
- Letter from the President
- Events Calendar
- Next Month's Topic
- One or Two Articles that Compliment Next Month's Topic
- Classifieds Section
- Library Corner
- Adventures in Woodworking (this is an idea I got from some old issues of FWW - they stopped doing this section at some point in 1985 or so)
- Ask the Woodnut (Michael thought it would be funny to have a Dear Abby section where members could e-mail in questions or if I didn't have any worth answering I could make something up that reads high on the goofy crap-o-meter.)
- Woodcraft Classes (A sponsorship opportunity? This might answer one of the concerns about the rising costs of producing a newsletter. Our meetings take place in the local Woodcraft store, just 10 short minutes from my house I might add, so maybe I could talk to the owner of the store and see about publishing the class list in every issue for a small fee.)
- Other Learning Opportunities (local colleges offering classes, community centers, woodworking schools, weekend seminars, etc.)

If anyone out there is a member of a woodworking guild and you have any ideas to offer me, I'd love to hear from you!

A Tale Of Two Chisels...

A few weeks ago I was trolling eBay, looking for some carving chisels. I came across a listing that was simply marked, "two chisels" with a starting price of about $9. I did a double-take and quickly saw they were not chisels but turnscrews! And they looked to be just about the sizes I was looking for!

I've wanted to get a few turnscrews for some time now, but I've never wanted to spend the money on a full set of five or six - I just don't think I use enough screws in my woodworking to necessitate having all of those sizes. Any time I've seen them on eBay, they are either in the full set (and end up going for a whole lot of money) or they are individuals (with a starting bid of $20 or more).

I think the listing gave the wooden handles as "oak", but... given that they didn't know the difference between a chisel and a turnscrew, I didn't put much faith in their ability to identify the wood used. So here's a close-up of the handle...

What do you think? I've seen enough planes and tools in my day to see the similarities between these handles and the flecked rays of beech, so that would be my guess.

The ball of the handle of each turnscrew is slightly oval in shape, not really round. It fits well in the palm of my hand and seems to give me good control.

Both handles are marked with the word "TOGA" and the letter "E". I'm pretty certain Toga was a company in England that made turnscrews and chisels and braces (probably made a lot more than that, but those are the only things I've ever seen for sale with that name marked on them).

The tips of both turnscrews are a bit worn, so I might need to spend a little time fettling them just a bit to get them in shape. Fortunately for me, I came across an article on fettling screwdrivers in one of my recently acquired Fine Woodworking Magazines! I'll try to document the process when I get it started.