Welcome to Woodworking for Mere Mortals.

Free woodworking plans. Easy woodworking projects. Fun woodworking videos. Woodworking for Mere Mortals.

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Web site redesign...in progress

Hi guys. My appologies if some things are acting wacky. I am in the middle of giving this blog (no, not log) a facelift. I should have it all sorted out in a day!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

One more log post

Tim Mautz had these to contribute. It's a great little end table. The grain just glows. I have no doubt something like this would be a hot seller at any craft fair. Rustic is in, man!

Monday, September 27, 2010

More log woodworking

Wouter du Bois let me know about his log projects. Here are two of his videos. Now THIS is cool stuff! My favorites are the candle holders and the hardwood ball. Check these out. Thanks Wouter!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Friday, September 24, 2010

Things to make with a log

Here's the video of the three (well, four) things I made out of half of one of my apple wood logs. This was a completely invigorating exercise. I ended up making a bandsaw box and a swing-lid box in addition to the candle holder I described in my previous post. (If you haven't made a bandsaw box before, here is my bandsaw box tutorial video to get you started.)

If you have never made anything using just a log, I encourage you to give it a shot. It kind of gets you thinking about woodworking a little differently. Not once was I concerned about creating perfect joints, nor did I feel the need to take any measurements or design anything on paper. I drew not a single line on any piece. It is truly free form woodworking and feels something like a sculptor must experience. If you have never felt particularly artistic, working in this manner will draw it out of you.

By the way, it was my son who gave me the idea for the fourth project at the very end. It took me five minutes to make last night, so I tacked it onto the end of the video this morning. I like the way he thinks. We could probably sell these as gifts for retirees. Or at least to people who share my philosophy about being in the shop.

If you have more ideas, or have made log stuff yourself, let us know! You can also send me pictures of your project at zrammedia (at) gmail (dot) com or simply post them to the Mere Mortals Facebook photo page.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Beauty, death and the art of woodworking

In the 4th century B.C., Taoist philosopher Chuang Tzu purportedly had this to say:

A branch is cut from a living tree, then chiseled and painted to make a ritual vase. The leftovers are thrown away as rubbish. Everyone says that the vase is beautiful while the leftovers are ugly. I say both the vase and the leftovers are ugly, because they are no longer the natural, living tree.
Chuang Tzu was actually contemplating the nature of human beings and our motivations, but I can't help but ponder the nature of woodworking and art in general.

Why are arts and crafts so often paired? Woodworking is most definitely a craft, but it can also be art. Where the distinction lies, I'm not sure. Does craft imply a certain functionality of use? A Degas painting has no function, so we agree that it's art. I have seen outstanding wood sculptures that serve no practical function, but wood carvers are true craftsmen.

We see leftover wood as ugly and a finished vase as beautiful because the beauty stems not from the death of the tree, but from the life of the man who created the vase. In this respect, woodworking is a unique art: it must begin with a destructive act. Nothing need die to create an oil painting or compose a symphony.

Out of death springs life, so in this sense I disagree with Chuang Tzu. True, a tree that dies and decomposes creates life for new generations of trees, yet a tree that is transformed into a vase has achieved not only an extended life, but has revealed the true nature of its craftsman.

A few years ago I chopped down a very old apple tree in my back yard. Its usefulness and fruitfulness had reached its end. I saved a number of logs from it with the intention of someday doing something with them. This past weekend I decided to finally see if I could do the tree justice and give it back its life. I sat around in my shop thinking about a log and what I could make that would be both functional and give beauty to an otherwise dead chunk of tree: allow it to become an art and a craft.

On Friday I'll post a video of three ideas I came up with, but the third one is my favorite so I thought I'd post a picture today. The idea here was to create a candle holder using slices of the log and allow the candle wax to cascade down like a waterfall. Awesomely fun project. It got me to free my thinking from 3/4" lumber and see the nature of the tree.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Make a slit drum

Homemade musical instruments really intrigue me. There's something special about listening to tones or rhythms produced by unique instruments. No two will ever sound alike.

Slit drums seem to have their origins in Polynesia, Africa and even Mexico. They are made out of any number of woods or even gourds; the variety is endless. Check out this Aztec version:

And here is the Steve Ramsey version made with Walnut and plywood:

Well okay, my slit drum isn't as exotic, but it actually produces really pleasing, resonating tones that aren't done justice with my cheapo video camera. I'm pretty sure I will be revisiting the topic of homemade instruments soon. My son desperately wants me to make him an electric guitar, though I'm not sure if it would really be worth it. Seems like a new guitar would be cheaper. (If anyone has any experience with guitars, let me know. I'm not even sure where to begin!) Until then, I'll stay tribal. Enjoy the video.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Wood Whisperer. A Mere Mortals exclusive!

What happens when Steve in Marin meets Marc Spagnuolo, The Wood Whisperer? Well, we get a bit of critical insight into today's most prolific online woodworker. Like, didn't we really want to know what kind of beer is in the Whispering Fridge?

This video was a TON of fun. Marc is one of the most amazing woodworkers around these days and has really filled the gap left by Norm Abram. Even if you live on another planet, surely you have visited his web site.

Well, here's a bit of inside scoop: Marc is as down-to-earth as he appears in his videos. Amazingly, the guy actually responds to every bit of email or message he receives and is totally connected to his audience. I wish I was that good.

But don't you think he needs a little caffeine?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Sentimental tools

For a lot of us, we learned how to use tools from our dads. I don't ever recall any formal lessons about any particular tool or technique. I just watched my dad building and fixing things. It's like learning a second language through immersion: you just pick it up. The most exciting moment for me came when my dad bought a Shopsmith. I'm pretty sure it was the same multi-tool they still make, the Mark V. Suddenly, I could use real power tools and make real things. My favorite tool was the lathe and I made lots of candle holders.

My grandfather was another strong influence. He kept a small work area in his garage of which I have more memories simply poking around his tools rather than actually building anything. He kept every tool he owned in a special place and everything was tidy. For some reason I will never know, he collected pliers. Not exactly a woodworking tool, but he had pliers of every shape and size and for every purpose.

When my grandfather was a young man he was a telegrapher, and over the years I have slowly come to learn that they were a quirky breed. His "bug" (a certain type of telegraph machine) which I now own is literally covered over every inch with telegraffiti. Little quips, phrases and puns, carefully painted on every surface — some in english and some in Morse code. It's a fascinating thing.

In addition to the bug, I inherited many of my grandpa's tools including his pliers. And lest I confuse them with my tools, his are easy to identify: he carved his initials, P.L.R., in Morse code onto every tool he ever owned.

I use these pliers all the time. They are still as useful as they were to him nearly a century ago. Only for me, they are the most prized tools in my shop. It's impossible to grab a pair and not notice those carved dots and dashes, and it's impossible for me not to think about him and his workbench when I use them.

Just a little sentimental journey for today's blog.

16 year-old MereMortalDork

Monday, September 6, 2010

The world's most useless machine

Maybe you have seen this: it has over 3.5 million views. But it totally fascinates me. Have any of you ever made something like this? The action of turning it on causes the box to turn itself off. I want one!

Happy Labor Day everyone...go grill some food!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Five minute project: the magic paddle

I'm not sure if this even qualifies as a woodworking project, but if you have a few minutes you can make this for any kid interested in magic and they will amaze you. Well maybe not you since you built it, but other people! Plus, I thought I would have some fun and show you two other tricks you can pull on folks in your shop.

No, I'm not very good at these, but David Blaine did them on national TV and I'm sure he's makin' the bucks!

Download my magic paddle template here. Yep, you are downloading a stick.

Friday, September 3, 2010

5 worst woodshop chores

Woodworking is one of the most relaxing and rewarding hobbies around, but like any other avocation, it comes with its share of drudgery. Things we must deal with in order to have fun and create stuff.

1. Changing saw blades. I admit it. I use saw blades past their lives because it's a pain to change them. This applies to almost any kind of blade. Rarely have I changed a tablesaw blade without skinning my knuckles. I really can't count how often I use a fine-tooth blade to make rough rips rather than take the time to change it out. Guilty. Miter saw? Well, I use its blades until they barely cut butter. In fact, I have to get out the manual every time, because I forget the changing procedure. But tops on this list is my bandsaw. I loath changing these guys. At least on my saw, I have to practically disassemble the entire unit in order to change a blade. Which leads me into my second most dreaded chore:

 2. Tensioning my bandsaw. If you haven't figured it out yet, I love my bandsaw, but it is an endless source of frustration. I am never really sure whether the blade is at the right tension and even if it is, then I have to fuss with the alignment and tracking. Changing a blade and getting set for a new cut takes upwards of thirty minutes. 

3. Changing adhesive-backed sandpaper on my disc sander. The glue on these discs is just a nightmare. Again, I have to disassemble a bit of the machine, then try to peel off the used paper. It never comes off in one peel. Then it leaves gooey chunks of adhesive all over the metal disc. I have tried all sorts of solvents and never found one that really does a good job. As a result...I don't buy a lot of sandpaper. I use every little spot of it until I am essentially sanding on plain paper: about a 50,000 grit.

4. Vacuuming. It's just one of the chores that never seems to end. Sure, I sweep up as much sawdust as I can with a broom, but it has a way of getting everywhere imaginable. My ShopVac does a great job, but it takes a long time to get everything swept up even passingly acceptable. Then I almost don't want to saw any more wood since the shop is so clean. A couple of things that also bug me: it almost sucks too hard. When I use it with the wide floor attachment it actually tries to suck up my garage floor. It becomes a suction cup. Secondly, I wish they would design tools like these for people over five feet tall. Even with the extension tube, I get a backache from hunching over to sweep. Have you ever swept up perfectly good screws just because it's easier than actually taking the time to bend over and pick them up? Well, okay that's my fault, not the vac.

5. Cleaning brushes. I don't think it is humanly possible to ever completely clean a brush. After applying coats of say, brushing lacquer, I am really not in a cleaning frame of mind. I dutifully get out the thinner and clean and clean. Then I get fresh thinner and clean some more, getting between every bristle. Then I get more fresh thinner and clean some more. Then I wash it out with soapy water. And I'll be damned if that brush isn't hard the next time I go to use it. I think the key is to use about a gallon of thinner after every brush use. Then go buy another gallon.

Admittedly, these are minor peeves, and in the scope of things, not so bad. They pale in comparison to the fun I have building things. What do you dread in the shop?