31 December 2014

Chinese style bowdrill

I managed to snap some photos of two bowdrills that Gao Yisheng brought into the woodshop before his departure. The bowdrills have left with him but my curiosity remains. They function identically yet while one is clearly a smartly fashioned homemade model, the other shows signs that it was manufactured.

side by side

Besides having a surface finish, the bowdrill on the right appears to be manufactured (yet I could find no brand markings) because of the larger alloy ferrule that accepts drill bits or bit pads and the ball bearings set inside chrome plated races. (The ferrule on the handmade version was nearly rusted through.) In spite of this, the bowdrill is rather crudely made. There is a bit of loss where, it seems, a lathe operator gouged out some short grain but it was still deemed acceptable. It's the putative handmade tool that has this detail on the handle that distinguishes it as more refined and adapted by a user for a user's comfort.
The more elegant handle of the two

the ferrules

By contrast the other bowdrill handle is a straight dowel with a wider section for a handle that is also warped along its length. Whether intentionally or not is unknown. I don't know anything of their provenance nor was I able to use them. They arrived as is and without and attachments. The cords were similarly rotten and would have required restringing before attempting to test them.

Planing stop, croche, and bowdrill

I managed to photograph a similar tool while on a woodcraft tour of TianTaiShan.
unguarded combination machine
Bespoke furnituremaker

I spotted this one on the workbench of a furnituremaker. He seemed to use it exclusively for drilling the alignment holes when gluing edges of wide boards. Opposite the work bench, he used a jointer with a drill chuck attached to the cutterhead spindle as a horizontal borer. The main source of lighting came through the front entryway so I failed to get a good photograph of the drill bit. Describing it in words is sufficient. An iron nail had been pounded flat and then sharpened to a point with two cutting edges. This was then driven into the end grain of a block of wood (pad), which was forced into the bowdrill. This was not a refined tool. I could see that replacing the pads had damaged the opening, probably with a screwdriver. It might have been made at one time to accept better crafted bits and pads. As it was, it served the joiner to drill the holes for bamboo dowels when making round tabletops from boards. At least in this form, this bowdrill is in no way an accurate tool and is very limited to small size holes. It is comparable to putting a finishing nail into a drill chuck. It does a task but in a very limited application.
I want to believe, at least, that at some time, drill bits and pads were made specifically for this tool, either for manufactured bowdrills or to be used in conjunction with homemade versions. I've never seen these tools used on a construction site and I have no idea whether any craftsmen prefer them over the more readily available cordless drills on the market today. It might simply be another example of the conservative impulse in so many aspects of Han Chinese culture. It nevertheless might have some advantages that have yet to be identified.
Short of finding a set of bits for this tool, there exists a possibility that evidence exists in printed form, possibly in advertisements or in tool catalogues. I am still looking for a cooperative scholar with connections in one of the state or university archives.  
If any reader has a suggestion where to pursue this line of inquiry, or wants to add anything to the discussion, please reach me through the comments.

29 December 2014

Waste not

Here are some boxes that I just finished putting a linseed oil finish on:
flip lid front

flip lid rear
sliding lid front

sliding lid rear

And here is the source the wood to make these boxes.

This unused pallet was just gathering dust when I decide to pull it apart and see what it was made of: rough sawn poplar, but the special discovery was the amount and varieties of sapstain fungus that had infected the planks. On the downside, the wood is very brittle and unforgiving to work, readily splitting and chipping off at the edges. On the upside, it's like a painting from the inside out. I have no idea under what conditions the fungi got into this wood, but it's possible that the varied colors are actually more intense due to competition between the different species setting up zone lines to defend their resources.
Controlled rot, and we see beauty in the patterns of the organic battlefields.

17 December 2014

Mujingfang remade

It's never a good sign when a new tool is painful to use. This was the case with my new Mujingfang beading plane. This is a bare bones tool manufacturer the only apparent upside of which is that their products are extremely cheap. I've bought their wares before so I know about their limitations. But as around $10 US a plane, it was hard to not try this one just once more.
One very valid criticism of Chinese manufacturing is that very often from the upper management down to the assemblyline worker, nobody in the operation has any idea about what it is they are making. That's the only way that I can explain how this beading plane ever came to be made as it is.
The cruel molding plane
The first point to notice is that the fence is on the opposite side as other molding planes for right-handed users. This might be a plus if they came in pairs for difficult to plane woods, but as far as I can ascertain, this is the only model. The other failing is that the plane is extremely small which makes it hard to push without the upper edge of the blade poking into the palm of the unlucky hand. Or was it meant to be pulled? There is a long, shallow depression on the fence side but it appears more decorative than functional.  If one tries to pull the plane, squeezing with the right hand thumb somewhere in the depression, it is not possible to maintain enough downward pressure without having the blade chatter across the surface. It is simply impossible to believe that any woodworker did a test run on this plane before it was approved for delivery.

Initially I thought about just chalking up this purchase to as yet another lesson about how expensive it is to buy cheaply made Chinese tools. But then I pondered how to salvage it. I could have cut off some length from the blade and filed it smooth, but that would still have made the tool only slightly easier to wrap my fingers around the back while navigating with a pullstroke. It occurred to me that I could build a holder into which I might be able to use this plane with. My first idea was to create a square hollow in a suitably large piece of wood. Fast, but it would have created a problem as to how to keep the plane held inside the holder. I then realized that I would have to build up a holder in layers and then cut it down to size.

I started by planing down a piece of scrap pine slightly thicker than the plan body. I then roughly sketched the outline of plane and cut the waste out with a bandsaw. The result of my transfer and cutting was that the back section was slightly lower than the front in the glueup. I knew that I would be able to quickly bring the bottom down to flat with a jointer. The finished depth was less important that the interior fit.
test fitting

I didn't want any slippage during the glue assembly so taking a cue from my experience with Krenov style planemaking, I drilled 4 10mm holes and used dowels to keep the three pieces aligned. I moistened the wood surfaces to be glued, spread some watered down glue over the wet surfaces, and pounded them together down the dowel shafts. And, as Murphy is my witness, both inside pieces split along the holes for the dowels. I quickly spread glue over these unintended joints, clamped them together, and continued. Those joints would be cut off and the holes still functioned to keep all three pieces aligned.

alignment holes
I removed the block from the clamps the next day and started to shape the piece. I cut off the waste just below the doweled holes and ripped the excess from the sides while I was still at the bandsaw.  Over at the jointer, I flattened and squared up the bottom to the sides.
The beading plane is just proud of the pine holder. If it had been too low, it would have been a simple matter of running the bottom over the jointer enough times. I had to chop some allowance for the upper edge of the blade with a mortising chisel.
view from above
There is nothing to secure the plane inside the holder. I keep my fingers on the fence as I pull it along the stock. If I decide at a much later date to do any final shaping, there is a possibility of drilling and tapping for a wooden screw that can press against the finger recess.
profile from molding plane
I did a test run on a short piece of scrap. It is still necessary to use this plane on the pull stroke, but it is also much less painful now with pine holder to help guide it.

12 December 2014

Christmas presentable 2014

It might be a sign of bourgeois comfort that I am able to craft Christmas presents again. I made these lanyards for my father who is probably living in a cabin in the mountains of western Colorado, living out his last years in retirement.
toggle and carabiner
 He told me once that he needed to escape from the big city of Craig. It's hard to relate to such a sentiment since there are more residents in my apartment complex than in the whole of Moffat County.
These lanyards ought to come in handy whenever he decides to do some camping because even cabin living can become confining. The last time I saw him, though, his camping involved a 5th wheel travel trailer and his campsite was somewhere in sunny Arizona.

 There is also the possibility that he might be called up as a paratrooper as these were once employed. I prefer that they might inspire of the grandchildren to be reminded of a very distant uncle of theirs. I don't need to worry that I might undo the surprise of this gift. My father has never turned on a computer. And as little as he writes, he doesn't read any more. Merry Christmas, dad.
same wood, different reaction to linseed oil

20 November 2014

Hacking Stolmen in Jiangsu

Ikea Hack: Stolmen

Ikea makes some good products. Sometimes it's just parts of their products that are good. I seldom assemble Ikea products without modifying them in some manner to suit my tastes and higher construction standards. What I like about the Stolmen system is the adaptability and expandability on account of the brackets. Ikeas also manufactures open shelves and drawer components as part of the Stolmen line.
I wanted to make use of the brackets but I was unimpressed with the upright posts that made up the basis for the whole assembly. They feel flimsy and they are only affixed to the floor by a single adjustable bolt in a manner that is convenient only for homeowners with few construction skills. This flimsiness is only partially overcome by additional struts that can be attached to the posts with bands and also require more holes in a wall, all of which detract from the look and the mechanical design.
The posts are adaptable to various ceiling heights but are still limited to a range between 210-330 cm. Both the posts and their necessary mounting fixtures were clear weak points in this system.

I thought it would be easy enough to find some steel pipes to substitute for the Stolmen uprights but the fact that nobody else had done this before me should have been a clue as to the inherent difficulty. Doing this hack in China only made it take a lot longer, 3 years longer than I had anticipated. I began by measuring the diameters of the Stolmen uprights. Officially Ikea lists the diameter as 2” or 5 cm. In fact, the posts have two outside dimensions. The lower, wider section is 46.5 mm OD; the upper, 39.8 mm OD. Ikea includes two sets of plastic sleeves and metal bands for the wall struts with each bracket to accommodate these different sizes. The plastic sleeves act as a kind of cushion to protect the surfaces from being marred and the increase the grip.  These outside dimensions are not commercial standards, which is Ikea’s corporate way of compelling consumers to buy the uprights if they want to take advantage of the whole system.   
The breakthrough that I discovered came about by trial and error.  Using either set of the plastic gaskets, I found that no commercially available pipe allowed for a secure fit. But when I used two halves from the different gaskets, I found that the brackets did hold securely around 1 ¼” pipe, which has an OD of 42.0 mm. This not surprisingly falls within the dimensions of the upper and lower sections of the Stolmen posts.

1 1/4" metal pipe with metric equivalent in milimeters

The pipe vendor whom I found to cut and thread the pipes only carried galvanized and bare metal piping. Black pipe seems to be unknown in the mainland. I wanted black pipe, but I settled for the galvanized.  And as another indication that the mainland is not DIY friendly, the pipe fitter didn’t sell floor flanges nor did he understand how such an attachment functioned. I had to order the floor flanges through Taobao. The pipe fitter, in spite of being helpful enough to fabricate everything to my specifications while I waited, likely still doesn’t understand what he constructed. The Chinese word for flange is: fa3lan2, which is clearly a borrowing. According to the Taobao merchant, such fittings are only sold abroad because Chinese don’t know about them. Another great example of circular marketing analysis.
Manufactured yet still a mystery in the PRC
Here are some images that are a result of this long, involved hack:
The two halves of the different bracket gaskets at work

Floor flange solidly mounted on a wall

The possibilities are quite boundless
I found that attaching the clothes rod helped to steady the assembly as I first lowered it onto the concrete anchors in the floor and then eased it to engage with the anchors in the wall.

As a bonus, I can suggest one more hack for the Stolmen system. I find that the clothes rail brackets tend to get loose so I add a rubber washer on the screw that attaches it to the threaded hole of the horizontal pipe. This gives something for the screw to push against instead of bottoming out with metal on metal contact. It’s similar to the way in which the plastic gaskets insure a tight fit for the brackets on the posts. The rubber washers also help to protect the surface finish. There is some variation so that two washers might be called for to get the desired result.

I discovered this hack earlier when I first installed a Grundtal shelving system and was unhappy with the fit of the posts.

Please let me know whether this is helpful. I’ve included the links in case any mainland readers want to tackle this project on their own.

30 January 2014

Iron forgery

The scraping bench

In an attempt to find a source for handwrought nails, I was taken in tow to a place east of Nanjing. My driver, Lao Gao, asked a local woman on the shoulder of the road where the tiejiangpu was. She replied: "There are many blacksmith shops in this village." I felt that we might have struck gold fastenerwise. This initial elation would prove to be unfounded.
The first workshop was squeezed between the road and a cesspool. As we entered, the smith was working on a cleaver, pushing a two-handled scraper downwards to refine the knife edge. There was a stack of smitten knives on the floor awaiting this treatment.

A typical Chinese anvil?

It was the anvil that caught my eye because although very identifiable by its function and position next to the forge, its shape was so different from what I had ever seen. It is symmetrical with two flat topped horns and a round lump in the middle.  There were the usual selection of tongs but only one hammer with two flat sides. Rather than using a ball or cross peen hammer to draw the iron ingot to form metal, this workman, the one example whom I've come across, uses the hump and a flat faced hammer.
Working triphammer

There is no need to romanticize this man's work. He burns coal directly on his forge, uncoked. The sulfurous, acrid smoke as a result of this hung in the air. His products and services amounted to very crudely fashioned cutlery and farming implements, one that was present in number was a kind of straight spade/hoe that lacked a footing edge. The lighting was so poor; otherwise, I would have taken a photo. This closest representation that I can find online is here. These are definitely not used as advertised. I can assert that the online seller is merely renaming the tool in order to attract international customers.

The homemade triphammer seemed to be in working order and also appeared to do much of the drawing and shaping. It displayed a combination of repurposing and blacksmithing know-how.
The tallyboard explains in detail the products being made here. From left to right along the top, he lists 110 in stock material, then big white knife and small white knife (I cannot find any clear meanings for this), and lastly hoes. On the second rank are listed sickle, (unclear), cleaver, repair hoe. On the bottom rank are handle, big scissor, small scissor, and repair plow.

As we slowly learned, He didn't regularly make any nails but instead directed us to another smith who did, maybe. At that smithy, we learned that the smith who did make nails was in poor health. Lao Gao took down the man's telephone number that was painted on the exterior wall and we headed back emptyhanded without even seeing an example of handforged nails.