Category: shop

New bandsaw

Found a Taiwanese bandsaw from 1999 on Craigslist last week and drove to Old Southwest Reno (where Ingrid and I are thinking of buying a home) to pick it up. I can’t ask about it on the Old Woodworking Machines forum because discussions of Asian machines are prohibited!

But I did some googling and found out these bandsaws are sold by Harbor Freight (into which I promise myself I will never set foot again) and are supposed to be pretty decent entry-level bandsaws.

Bandsaws are simple machines. In fact, making your own bandsaw at home is currently all the rage among the YouTube “Maker” community. After watching a video about bandsaw tuning I got to work re-aligning the blade and the blade bearings. It was easy. Now I have a working bandsaw, though I need to buy a new blade for it, and make a rolling stand.

Playing with the machines is sometimes more fun than making stuff with them.

BTW, monster flooding supposed to hit Reno and Sparks tonight. It starts at 1:00pm and will peak later tonight. I really don’t know what to expect. Last night I watched an hour-long special on YouTube about the 1997 flood. Jesus, I didn’t need to see that.

Shop furniture

I need to build some shop furniture, mostly roll-round utility tables, but I will also need stands for things like the drill press, grinders, etc. Rather than re-invent the wheel every time, I decided to settle on a single design I can use for a variety of applications.

Back in 2005 when I moved my office from our first 700 square foot building on Whittier Ave to a 1,500 square foot unit on Monrovia, I spent Memorial Day Weekend building five workbenches out of structural Douglas fir, some pine boards and 5/8 inch sheathing:


It’s a very basic design. I didn’t see it anywhere, it just seemed a natural way to build a bench. Those were assembled with deck screws; later I would use 1/4 inch lag screws in most places. I covered the benches with sacrificial 1/8 inch Masonite (hardboard) that can be removed and replaced after it gets worn, a trick I learned from my father:


When that photo was taken, there was only one person working in the warehouse: me!

Those benches are still in use, and I made a few more five years later when we moved across the parking lot to Unit B1. When we moved across town to Baker St I asked my production manager if she wanted to get fancy proper workbenches and she said she liked the ones we had, so we made some more. I think we have ten of them now.

In the meantime I also constructed some big 8×4 foot worktables of pretty much the same design (with no shelves) for use in the shipping and receiving area. When we moved to Baker St I made some more, but fitted them with casters so you could move them around the shop easily (note the assembly benches in the background):


This proved to be a remarkably useful innovation. We have four of those big roller benches and we use them constantly. It’s incredibly productive to be able to stack stuff up on a bench in your working area and then simply roll it out to the shipping area, or vice-versa. Which reminds me of an anecdote from Nassim Nicholas Taleb concerning wheels on airport luggage . . .

So I decided that from now on utility benches would have casters.

For my woodshop I am looking at a different design, this one of 3/4 inch birch plywood. It’s something I have seen around on YouTube. Also, the woodshop next door to us when we were on Baker had a bunch of these (they later added casters to them after they saw our roll-around benches). All my projects are assigned random project names (from a spreadsheet, natch), and this project is called Jade:


I’ve been trying to work out how large to make my Jade bench(es). The big 8×4 foot bench is too big for my space and anyway the eight foot span probably tests the strength limits for this particular bench design. Luckily, my design software, SolidWorks, lets you easily develop what it calls configurations, that is, variations on a single basic design that differ by dimensions or other changes. So after designing my Jade bench, I whipped up a number of different configurations by changing the main table top dimensions, which are all at a 2:1 aspect ratio (that is, the width is half the length):


SolidWorks would allow the widths of the stretchers and legs to be changed for each configuration to make them more proportional, but I wanted to keep things simple, so in all cases the legs and stretchers are five inches wide.

Of course, there’s a spreadsheet at upper left in the illustration. That’s to work out the bill of materials (or more specifically the cut schedule) for each bench. The green tinted cells are variables, that is, dimensions that might be specific to a particular bench size. Once those are entered the rest is calculated automagically.

Non-USAn readers might note with dismay and alarm all the fractions that appear in the Length and Width columns of the spreadsheet. These are truly the American Man’s Burden, and what set us apart from the rest of the world far more profoundly than rampant gun nuttery. In fact, I have often wondered whether any other culture in the world besides the US and the British use fractions at all, for any reason (and the British are migrating away from them now too). The worst part is when you have to do math with fractions. Luckily, we have spreadsheets for that.

Naturally, going metric for this sort of thing would be practical, but here is why I won’t:

For my mechanical design work I use decimal inches, no fractions. This is easy for me and easy for the machinists, who just punch decimals into a CNC program. From that point of view, calling out 2.763 inches is no easier or more difficult than using 7.018 cm.

Mathematically, fractions can be more accurate than decimals. For example, 5/32 is much more precise than, say, 0.156, which is rounded up from 0.15625. But today computers and calculators just work with the floating point, so fractions don’t give you anything when doing calculations. And when measuring you are subject to tolerances anyway. If I want to use a dimension of 5/32, it will be called out as 0.16 if I can live with a tolerance of 0.015; and 0.156 if I need it to be accurate to within 0.005. I never get to 0.15625, practically speaking.

The problems occur once a tape measure gets involved. All the tape measures I have ever seen are in fractions of an inch. So are the yardsticks and just about every other device for taking linear measurements except a few engineering scales I have laying around (my digital micrometers can switch at will, of course). So anything architectural, or in the woodshop, uses fractions of an inch.

If I really cared (and maybe if I was raising kids I would care more), I could round up every tape measure and ruler in the house and in the shop and trade them all in for metric equivalents. Within a week of using a metric tape measure I suspect centimeters and millimeters would be as natural to me as inches and quarter inches. After all, it didn’t take long for me to find driving in the UK as natural as driving in the US.

But there is no compelling reason for me to make the switch, especially as I can do the math with Excel, when necessary.

Back in California . . . again

I spent the holiday weekend in Costa Mesa, cleaning out my home office and also putting together the raised planter I made for Ingrid.

I’m pretty pleased with the planter, though Ingrid still has to fill it with soil and I wonder whether it will hold. It’s made of 2x6s and held together by 3/8in carriage bolts. I’ve never used carriage bolts before; I think they look slick. I also employed two lengths of threaded rod to hold the long sides together, keep them from bowing apart. The threaded rods are protected by lengths of Schedule 80 PVC pipe set into counterbores in the posts. I used pressure treated posts and now I’m worried whether they will let chemicals leach into the soil. I doubt it.


I already brought all my tools to Reno, so I didn’t have my angle grinder with me. Otherwise I would have gone through and cut down all those bolts at the nuts. Ingrid says it’s no big deal.

When I first designed the planter I decided to use 2x6s. Then I realized I would have a lot less work to do if I used 2x8s. But I forgot to update the bill of materials (engineer-talk for shopping list) and came home with a bunch of 2x6s. I had to re-drill a lot of the holes in the posts. Using 2x6s made for a lot of extra work.

The planter holds 56 cubic feet of earth, less the space taken by the posts (approximately one cubic foot), for a net of 55 cubic feet (1.6 cubic meters). That’s a lot of dirt you have to shovel in, 4,280 lbs worth. The next time I do something like this, the planter will be raised up off the ground, maybe with space for shelves underneath, so it won’t have to hold as much dirt.

Then I spent Sunday finally emptying and cleaning my home office, which as usual had shit piled up to the sky, even though I cleaned it out something like a year or so ago. Some the crap I got out of there had been sitting on the floor for almost a decade. At the end of the month Ingrid’s son Ryan will be moving in with his girlfriend who needs a home office, so this place will be perfect for her.


You guise have seen the model-making station before. The gun safe is in the closet at right. With only three rifles and one handgun it it, it looks bereft.


The rifles in the case (all old military surplus bolt-actions) will all have to move to Reno sometime in the next five months, otherwise it’s an illegal firearms transfer.


Hopefully Ingrid can put up some curtains to keep the glare off the computer screen (I used a National Geographic Historical Map of Europe). It all looks so nice now I almost wish I could stay. Almost.

In fact, every time I visit SoCal I am even happier with my decision to move.

Yesterday drove the RV home, up US-395, with Bella. We picked up a couple hitchhikers in Lone Pine who had just completed the John Muir Trail (out for 26 days) and needed a ride back to their car at June Lake. The southbound traffic on the US-395 was unbelievable, all those holiday travelers making their way back to LA. It was bumper to bumper for a few miles south of Lone Pine, I’d never seen anything like it before. My friend who lives in June Lake tells me during the last few years they have seen some huge increase in the number of vacationers to the Eastern Sierra, something like a 500% jump. Well, thankfully that will never be me stuck in that mess going down to LA at the end of the weekend.

Northbound was a breeze.

Except driving the RV is a pain at any time, and this was the longest I’d ever driven it, by a factor of six! Had a real hard time on some of the passes, or really any significant grade. Boy were we glad (Bella and I) to get home last night.


Some six or more months ago I designed a set of stencils to mark AR-15 magazines. I wanted to differentiate the ten rounders (legal in California) from the 20 and 30 rounders (not legal in California, but legal almost everywhere else), since they all look the same. Also, I wanted to personalize magazines, so that people could hang onto them if they took tactical training classes or whatever.

It took me all this time to find a waterjet or lasercut vendor who could do it. My regular guy was too expensive. Others backed away for whatever reason or just stopped returning calls. Finally I was referred to a company the San Fernando Valley, and the aluminum stencils arrived on Thursday. I had long ago built a little jig for registering multiple colors.

This morning I bought some spray paints at Walmart did some experimenting:


That’s the teeth emoji I use as a sort of personal logo or avatar on some websites including Flickr.

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