Monday, December 8, 2014

5th String Spike And Nylgut Install

I've always been curious how my banjo might sound with nylon strings. The main thing holding me back was the need to install a spike at the fifth string in order to bring it up to tension. I work around this with steel strings by using a smaller gauge string, but I wasn't sure that would work for nylon.

Having recently acquired some tiny railroad spikes and received a new push drill, I took a crack at it and completed the job. I shortened and polished the spike, drilled a hole for a snug fit, dipped the spike in glue, pressed it in with pliers, and then tapped down to a height just above the string thickness. It took two tries to get everything lined up and pointing the right way at the right height, but it works just fine. I'd say I'm lucky, considering I didn't really practice on scrap. I didn't drill all the way through the neck or anything!

It sounds like an old fashioned thumper in person but more mellow in the recording. I will try a different bridge and give my fingers some time to adjust.

I like how easy the strings are to work with in installation, which is good because so far I've broken three (at the tailpiece knot).

Of course Emeline noticed the red strings right away. "Mommy, Daddy's banjo has red strings. Daddy, why are you always building banjos?" Well, it's just the one, Sweetie... I'm a little slow.

Nylgut reds demo audio (download):

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Shooting board

I cobbled together this shooting board a few weeks ago and finally screwed down the fence and used it today. It's an amalgamation (bastardization) of plans from Chris Schwarz and Scott Wynn.

The base is 3/4" birch plywood. The top is two layers of 3/16" hardboard. The fence and hook are chunks of cherry from the land.

I slopped some linseed oil on. The hardboard soaked the oil up into streaks and would have taken a gallon to fix.

The fence is attached with machine screws into threaded holes and had a strip of sandpaper glued to the bottom (oops, not on the bottom yet).

It seems to work, although I haven't tested for accuracy.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Bench hook

We had this cradle my grandpa made a few decades ago, but it was too big and heavy to keep around as a toy. After checking with the family to make sure no one else wanted it, I received permission to use the wood.

Here's the dismantling and first project, a simple bench hook for cutting stuff with the Lowes special pull saw. The cradle sides were both straight grained quartersawn oak, so I grabbed one of them for the base of the bench hook. The stop and cleat (under the far side) are just pieces cut off the ends of the same board.

Gluing the fretboard

Here's the fifth string tunnel tube bent to fit the curves it must traverse, gluing the fretboard and peghead overlay, and a closeup of the tube sanded flush with the fretboard.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Rasp handles

A while back I made a handle for a dragon rasp. I recently made the second and took all of one construction photo.

The idea came from I used cherry from the stash. Like Dan said, saw around the shoulder, pare it down, shape the handle, drill, insert the tang, and tap the end of the handle to seat. I didn't do the burn-in treatment. I mainly used a small block plane to make the octagonal facets. Easy, fun, functional.

Also shown is one rasp taking a two day vinegar bath for sharpening. It helped. Except that rig soon fell over and dumped a pint of vinegar all over everywhere. The second time was the charm with a proper curved clamping fixture.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Fretboard update

Here's cutting the scoop with the safe-t-planer, followed by a bunch of messing around drilling and routing channels in the neck, fretboard, and peghead overlay for the fifth string tunnel. Drilling the oblique holes is a major pain, but I think next time I can start with the dremel instead. With an angled ramp, it cuts nice and low and straight.

Once the tube gets bent to follow the curves, the fretboard and peghead overlay are ready for gluing.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Fret slots

Fixing to glue in the neck dowel nut, then slotting the fingerboard. It's weird how they design the saws to jump out of the slot and over to the space between the slots.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Chisel rack

3/4" holes, 7/16" slots in the front, chamfered with a rasp and file. The slotted access is much better than dropping down into the tool rack, especially for the looooooong paring chisels.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Neck reinforcement

Banjo neck #2 hasn't been completely forgotten. A while back I got the neck reinforcement glued in. It's a 3/8" square hollow steel bar set in a routed channel with a thin filler strip on top. Half round dowels fill the round ends left by the spinning router bit. Today I planed the filler strip flush.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Dirt cheap and easy shop air cleaner

In order to do a bit of routing and sanding inside without getting lung cancer, I wanted to set up some form of air filtration. I spent a lot of time designing a downdraft sanding table that could double as an air cleaner (plus add tool storage drawers), but cooler head prevailed and I went with the easiest thing that could do anything at all.

This is simply a box fan with a 20" Filtrete filter, hung from the floor joists with three eye screws, eye bolts, and spring snap links. It blows up between the joists by default, or I can release one clip to drop it down if I really want to get the cyclone going.

It runs through a "power saver" outlet, so after a nice afternoon of raising dust, I can hit a button and walk away and the fan will run for 0.5, 3, or 6 hours. In practice I keep it on the three hour setting, turn it on as soon as I start using a power tool, and let the timer run its course after I leave the shop.

Drill press improvements

Having watched craigslist for years for a decent used drill press and never finding anything, I decided to make some changes to help with accuracy and safety while I continue abusing this Craftsman 12" consumer machine. I do like it because it has a good motor for the price, the digital depth gauge is great, the 3-1/4" quill travel is ample, and the horizontal handle is convenient, so why not?

This one was a purchase, plug, and play that turned into a project. I wanted to upgrade to a keyless chuck. I picked up this Shars 1/2" with integral shank on eBay and was pleased to note it was smooth and heavy. What I didn't realize was that I had no good way to tighten it without a shaft lock on the machine. It only has one knurled hand grabber to twist. By the time I realized this of course I had already installed it and perhaps dropped it out of the spindle once after failing to properly degrease it, perhaps even filed out a couple burrs on the shaft and installed it again.

Fortunately there was 1/4" or so of integral shaft showing and I was able to rig up a rosewood collar. It works.

As a bonus, the bit spins noticeably truer with this chuck than with the stock one.

I also added this adjustable handle to lock the quill for drum sanding and safe-t-planing. It locks it tight and does not move .001" in use, way better than using the spinny flimsy depth stop set screw in reverse like I did before. I pretty much followed this awesome video with modifications for my machine. I can almost do it half as fast as him after a bit of practice taking it apart.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Tool rack

It was high time to get my chisels, files, and rasps out of the drawer. I cleaned up some mystery wood on hand (it works like walnut but has a warmer color and is close pored--beats me) to make a pair of 4" wide boards and five 1/2" thick spacers. The whole thing is glued together and screwed to the cinder block wall behind the paneling with a tapcon screw through each spacer location. 1/4" oak dowel and finish nails serve as hangers on the front. It's basically the simplest version that I could make of the Popular Woodworking tool rack.

I feel like I can breathe now. The only problem is it filled up too fast. I do plan to hang a dedicated chisel rack off the lower right side of this at some point.

Monday, February 24, 2014

How to make the cheapest workbench somewhat workable

Now, while there are many of you who can afford either singly or by two or three clubbing together to fix up a shop in first-rate style, there are also many who cannot afford even so cheap a bench as that just described. What can you do in such a case? Only one thing—patch up a bench out of whatever old stuff you can find. Patched-up makeshifts are not to be recommended, except in case of necessity, but when it comes to the pinch, and a matter of having a bench made of whatever old materials you can find or having no bench at all, by all means make one of boxes[78] and anything that can be worked in. For of course the boats, skis, squirrel-houses, and so on, must be made!

But, whatever you patch up, make it solid and strong. Do not try to work at a rickety, shackly apology for a bench that shakes and jumps and sidles all over the room every time you saw or pound or plane. 
Wood-working For Beginners, C.G. Wheeler

I bought this workbench as part of my first tool purchase a few years
ago. It's $140 at Harbor Freight and it is really handy. The drawers
are nice to have. It's a good size for my shop. I have found ways to
use the vise and bench dogs. Unfortunately it's really light and has
no rigidity to speak of, on account of it being bolted together with
wimpy hardware. It shakes and bakes under any pressure at all, be it
from sanding, planing, poking with a fingertip.

After having so much fun with threaded rods on the past couple
projects, I finally decided to do something about the bench. I added
2" feet to raise the work height to 36".

I routed channels through scrap 2x2 and glued one to each leg with
5/16" rods tying together the trestles and feet--cross dowels at the
top, nuts and washers counterbored in the feet. That size rod was
chosen simply because that's the largest size cross dowels I could get
at Lowes. I thought I could pull this off without removing the top (wrong) or I would have went with 3/8" rod and tee nuts on top of the trestles.

Lastly, I ripped, zipped, and gripped new stretchers (resawed, routed,
and reglued), glued those to the underside of the flimsy shelf
stretchers, and ran 3/8" threaded rod. Those have countered nuts and
washers at each end because Lowes was out of the tee nuts.

The result? Success! The bench is now a little heavier and a LOT
stouter. I'm happy. It still fails at a lot of wood holding tasks, but
at least it doesn't rack in a gentle breeze. Between this and my
Parrot vise, I can work better and have bought myself time before
building a real bench.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Parrot vise setup

Monica gave me this vise LAST Christmas, and I finally got it set up. That is one sweet tool. The wood jaw pads with cork face are straight out of Frank Ford's playbook. I added the portable base from Rudy's playbook.

Some other handy items came from McMaster this week. Lots of fun awaits. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Luthier knife

Monica gave me the blade--Hock Tools, niiiice steel--for this knife as a Christmas gift, so I sliced a chunk of leftover rosewood from my banjo and made the handle.

Sorry I don't have a picture of the parts before assembly; I guess I was a bit nervous and hasty about gluing it. It's basically a sandwich of rosewood and a piece of maple equal in thickness to the blade with a slot cut out to fit the blade. It's all glued together with epoxy and aligned with a drill bit through a 1/8" hole. I later pressed a piece of brass tubing in the hole. I had intended to make the blade removable for sharpening, but it's in there permanently as far as I can tell.

The handle is finished with three coats of Tru-Oil and rubbed with 0000 steel wool and paste wax.

Tonight I honed the blade, and hoo boy can that sucker cut!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Router/sander station

I wrapped up this moderate sized project today (they always seem
easier before the first cut): a cart for my router table and
oscillating spindle sander. The sander had resided on the floor for
way too long and is uncomfortably high when used up on the workbench.
The router table is sized to serve as an extension table for the
sander, so they now live together on this cart.

Here are some facts:
- 3/4" birch plywood top
- 3/4" pine plywood bottom
- laminated 2x4 legs with internal 3/8" threaded rod, aligned with
1/4" dowel pieces in the ends. Tee nuts sit flush in the top. Nuts
exposed on the bottom allow for tightening or disassembly.
- 2" casters (they stink, but casters are expensive and I just
couldn't stomach getting better ones)
- 24" wide x 33" long
- 40" overall working height

The 2x4 legs were rather ugly with the factory roundover, so I whacked
all four sides with the Safe-t-planer, then cleaned up the surfaces
with hand planes and shot a quick chamfer with that little model
maker's plane. The rasp was used to clean up a rough bark edge in one

I wasn't planning on putting any finish on it, but the legs looked so
smooth after planing that I couldn't resist slapping a couple coats of
shellac on before assembly.

It's solid and wheels around the shop just fine. I'll probably need to
support the top at some point, but I haven't figured out the easiest
way to do it yet.