Sunday, October 4, 2020

Covid 19 week 29 - What's going on!

We're in week 29 of our Covid lockdown. Things have been looking pretty good in NYS in general; however, I just heard on the news today that several boroughs of NY City have had a large uptick in reported cases. I haven't looked closer yet; however, I just got news last week that my company will not ask us to return to the office before January. That's not terribly far off but it is a wait an see type of situation. Also, it was announced just this week that President Trump has tested positive for Corona virus and has been taken to Walter Reed Medical Center. Me, my wife, my dog, and all three of my cats are doing fine.

Next, why haven't I posted anything in the last month? Well, first...  it is summer and I don't do very much woodworking in the summer so not a lot has happened in the last month to talk about. Also, my new Dell laptop broke and yes I could have used my old laptop but it's slow and getting kind of flaky.

I was picking up my new laptop when the processor fan started making a horrible grinding noise. I quickly shut it down but the next time I booted it displayed an error screen saying the processor fan was not responding appropriately. Fortunately with some emails, on-line chats, and phone conversations the Dell first tier support sent me a box for shipping my laptop back to them. About seven days later I got my laptop back in perfect working order. Very happy with the Dell service (even though their first solution was updating the BIOS).

Anyway, I have gotten a few things done in the last month. I decided I'm going to build a hand tool workbench for my winter project this year. I pulled out my trailer to pick up lumber for the project, fixed it, broke it, then fixed it again. I picked up lumber for my workbench project this year. I picked up general purpose lumber for my winter shop projects. I started learning how to use my Tormek. And finally I started working on a shop cart for my sharpening system.

Hand Tool Workbench

I've been wanting a hand tool workbench for a number of years. I've been trying to learn how to use chisels and hand planes but not having anything reliable to hold down my work pieces has been a hinderance. Eventually I want a nice hardwood workbench with a leg vise and a tail vise...  but that's what I think I want. Having no real experience with workbenches I just think that's what I want. My plan is to build an inexpensive bench that I can fit a front vise and a tail vise to and hopefully learn better what I want for my ultimate workbench.

Christopher Schwartz is a workbench aficionado and has written several books on the matter. He's also written several articles for Popular Woodworking while he was editor there. One of the articles he wrote was how to build a workbench for $170 and I decided it would do. Of course that article is several years old. Also, he lives in the south where he can get Southern Yellow Pine. I had to settle for Douglas Fir and since there were a fair number of knots I bought extra. All-in-all I spent around $200 on lumber for the project. I haven't bought any vice hardware yet so my final price tag will be a bit higher.

The only real drama that happened on the trip to get the douglas fir was someone else in the store who wasn't wearing a mask who for some reason wanted to stop and talk to me about my purchase. I managed to be polite while wishing he'd go away. Also, I was wearing my own N95 mask. If you aren't wearing a mask, don't go up to strangers and talk to them!

I broke down some of the lumber and carried it down to my workshop. The rest of the lumber I wanted to leave in my garage but I also needed to get it out of the way. I made a dozen or so quick supports I could screw to the 2x4 studs along the back of my garage and got the remainder of the wood up off the floor.


I purchased a Harbor Freight 1720 Super Duty Folding Trailer several years ago when I sold my pickup truck. It has several good aspects and several unfortunate aspects. The biggest positive for me is that when I am done using it I can fold it into thirds and stand it on end. It fits into a footprint of about 2 ft x 5 ft. I have a niche in the back corner of my garage that it fits into perfectly and I can still fit my Forrester in my spot. 

The biggest downside is that it folds. It's heavy enough that when I am folding or unfolding it I am lifting weights that are within my ability to lift but if I slipped I would get hurt if it fell on me. It is also quite awkward for a single person to either fold or unfold. (The directions actually specify that it's a two person job and should not be done by a single person.)  I make it manageable by tying the back half the trailer to a rafter so I only have to lift the front half the trailer. However, this weight is also part of the problem. The amount of force to rip apart the trailer wiring is much less than the force to fold the trailer so if it catches on anything it gets ripped apart. I've had to fix the trailer wiring a half dozen times generally when the outside temperature is under 30 degrees F.

When I went to unfold my trailer for this wood pickup I noticed that somehow the hinges on the left side of the trailer had gotten torqued. I figured I would still be able to use the trailer until I got the hinge fixed but like every time I get the trailer out the lights didn't work. It's kind of a pain to crawl under the trailer to debug wiring issues so I folded it back into its vertical configuration. I debugged and fixed the lighting problems and figured I'd be all set to go to the lumber store. I'd missed my window for Saturday as they close early but figured I'd go Monday after work. I tried to prepare ahead of time by unfolding the trailer on Sunday so I'd be ready to go right after work. In the process of unfolding the knot in the rope holding the back came untied and the back half the trailer came crashing down smashing the right rear taillight. 

It was a dumb mistake and it was my fault. Of course the lights I'd just fixed no longer worked. When I tried refolding the trailer to get to the wiring I found that each time I was folding and unfolding the trailer I was just making the hinges worse. I ended up needing to take the hinge off and bolting the front and back half the trailer together. Also, the lights were still broke so instead of going to the lumber store I made a trip to Harbor Freight to purchase a new trailer light kit.

I ended up replacing the entire wiring harness. This time I soldered all wiring connections, added dielectric paste and used heat shrink tubing around each of them. Also, I had previously purchased some 2-wire weather proof connectors that I used to connect the front and back half the trailer. My plan is to disconnect the two halves the trailer before folding it and reconnecting them after unfolding it. This will require going under the trailer but I also bought a mechanics creeper from Harbor Freight so it isn't that big of a deal anymore to get underneath the trailer while it's unfolded.

It was actually quite pleasant working on the trailer in 60-70 degree F weather vs the 100+ degree F weather I originally assembled it in and the 20 degree F weather I had to fix the wiring in. 

Oddly the second most annoying thing about the trailer is that it is all bolted together. This is mostly only a problem because the frame is also the ground. Most of my wiring problems were related to having an open ground because one or more connections were loose. Also, to get the original wiring job to ground I had needed to thread copper wire around several of the bolts to get the front and back half the trailer to make a connection.

Fortunately one thing making all the wiring easier is a test box I'd made that allows me to plug my trailer into a 100 v wall outlet to test the lights. It would have been a nightmare if I'd had to hook it up to my truck each time I wanted to test it.

All in all I think I spent about three days futzing with the trailer and it still isn't completely fixed yet. To get replacement hinges I needed to mail order them. The box showed up Friday but instead of sending me front and back hinges, they just sent me two sets of front hinges. This wont work because the back hinges have a bend to them allowing them to fit around the front hinge. Karen, the woman I talked to when I called them about the incorrect order, was very nice and put in an order for replacement hinges. I'm figuring there is at least a 50-50 that I'll get the wrong hinges again.

General Purpose Lumber

What's general purpose lumber? Well, I like keeping a small amount of walnut, maple, red oak, and poplar hardwoods and baltic birch plywood in my shop. It's cheaper to just keep some around than to need something and have to run to the lumber store. Especially if it requires putting the trailer together.

So, I bought enough maple to make several more magazine boxes. I also picked up a single board of red oak and walnut and a couple boards of poplar. I bought a couple sheets of 1/2" and 1/4" Baltic birch. I don't have plans for them but I'm sure they'll get used for jigs and the such. I wanted to pick up some 1/4" MDF but they were out. Apparently it is one of the things that is hard to get.

The Tormek

I started practicing using the Tormek on my old cheap chisels and a plane blade I'd ruined trying to learn how to use water stones. It was day two and I got to use what I thought was the funniest accessory they'd included in the box. When I was unpacking it I found a yellow plastic "wallet" that when I opened it I found it contained a dozen or so band aids. Hilarious...  Then on day two or three of using the Tormek I accidentally dragged the back of one of my fingers across the plane blade I was sharpening while reaching for something else on my workbench. It initially just looked like a little scrape but by the time I got to my paper towels I was dripping blood.

I wasn't too proud to use one of the Tormek supplied band aids. I did finish what I was doing, then when I was all done cleaned the wound and put on a better band aid. I'm not sure when it happened but at some point many years ago I got tired of never having an appropriate band aid for whatever wound I had so I have an extensive collection in my medicine cabinet.

Anyway, back to the Tormek...  I really need to write up an individual review for this but suffice it to say for now that I am liking it. It does tend to get water splashed around it. My 35" tall workbench is also too high to work at it comfortably. When grinding chisels and plane irons you need to be "above" the tool and since I am only 5'10" that means I need to stand closer to the tools and I kept bumping into it. It doesn't hurt, you can touch the wheel while it is spinning. I did get wet though and it felt awkward.

Tormek makes a stand that is currently selling for almost $800 (USD) on Amazon. But, I am a woodworker. I can make my own stand. I spent a number of weeks noodling around what I wanted in my stand and I came up with a final set of plans this last week. My stand is going to be 30" high (like the Tormek one). I'd originally thought to make it entirely of plywood but when considering the amount of water that might be around it I decided to wrap the top with white oak. After deciding to wrap the top in white oak I thought that I may as well use some of my leftover white oak from building my dresser to make frame and panel sides. The inside is going to have drawers on wooden (UHMW plastic) slides on the left half and shelves on the right half with a pull out tray where I could store the tormek if I wanted to.

This weekend I pulled out one of my leftover boards and turned it into two panels and rails and stiles. They're all milled but I still need to finish sand them and glue them up. I could use some watco danish oil to make them looked fumed but that seems a bit extravagant for a workshop project. Yes, I see the irony in saying that when I am using quarter sawn white oak. But I really didn't like the experience of working with it so that makes it scrap lumber and I may as well make something out of it rather than just let it sit taking up space.

In Summary

I've not necessarily been doing that much wood working but I have been preparing for being able to do a winter's worth of projects. I still need to get the trailer fixed so I can get my wife's parking spot back but if they don't send me the right hinges this time I'll figure out some way to get the trailer folded and make it work. I am really looking forward to having sharp hand tools and a workbench I can use them on.