09 January 2015

New Screws in New Tools

Toolmaking is a trait by which some have defined homo sapiens. Ours is a tinkering species. I freely admit to this. I've updated two tools from Veritas to make them, in my estimation, better than originals.
This first tool with an opportunity for improvement is the 5/16" Hex Brace Adapter.

Brace adapters.
The 1/4" Hex Brace Adapter is something that should be in everybody's toolbox.  It can accept any and all commercially made 1/4" hex bits. It secures these in the aperture with a small magnet that generally stays in place. I've actually had to reglue the magnets on both of mine with two part metal epoxy. An annoyance to be sure, but until another manufacturer can produce something better, Lee Valley is the only supplier that I know of.
On the larger 5/16" hex model, instead of a magnet to hold the bit securely, a 4mm set screw that requires a tiny flat tip screwdriver was employed. This tool was made available to be sold to accommodate the larger shaft of the Veritas power tenon cutters and countersinks. They either felt that a magnet was too weak or else they had no confidence with their Chinese subcontractor finding a way to keep a magnet from falling out. 
I don't like have to keep a set of tiny screwdrivers with me so I opted to replace the set screw with socket head cap screw. (I actually lost this tiny screw the first time that I tried to use the tool which initiated this idea for upgrades.)The walls of this tool are quite thin so a 4mm, 5mm long screw is all that is necessary. Not only does the circumference on the socket cap make it easier to tighten with finger pressure, if greater torque is required, it is certainly a better fit to use a hex key to turn the screw.

I applied this same idea to another tool that I have recently purchased from Veritas, the wide blade conversion kit for small plow plane. This is a center skate that helps to support wider blades and, in my case, tongue cutting blades for tongue and groove joints. Thinking about it now, I think that the marketers thought that they could more easily introduce the small plow plane with a lower price point by selling the center skate separately. This is a shame because the tool is generally well made, yet it requires a dedicated user with sufficient spare time to figure out its full potential because these components are were sold separately. (I notice now as I write this that Lee Valley has changed their website to avoid some of this confusion since they now offer the small plow plane with conversion kit under a single price, admittedly at a steep price.)

The conversion kit out of the box.

There again is a set screw requiring a tiny flat head screwdriver to engage it. I applied the same thinking and purchased a #10-32 1" socket end cap screw to upgrade the tool. There is hardly any need in this application to apply torque. The screw functions to keep the skate parallel with the main body. It doesn't require force, but rather a finesse that can be accomplished with fingers much more readily than by fiddling with a screwdriver in a little slot. The hex aperture in this application is superfluous.
The center skate installed with socket cap screw

It looks better, too.

08 January 2015

The joiner in the winecellar with the tenon saw!

Shanzhai culture makes wine purchases daunting in the Middle Kingdom. Language barriers and a lack of DOC enforcement make it a constant hazard for even a fairly competent Chinese oenophile to detect the drinks from the dregs. The French wine conglomerate, Castel Group, has been able to enter the Chinese market primarily on the cachet of all things French. As a student once defined the word, romantic, to me: "You know, like France."
The middle class Chinese consumer wants to drink the best that he can afford and has convinced himself that French wines are all the best. And so through the magical process of self-fulfilling prophecy, French imports are typically the most expensive of any wineshop's selection, and the most profitable for shanzhai bottlers to copy.
Shockingly similar packaging

I can only explain the proliferation of special packaging in China as relating to the need to often deliver special gifts to lubricate social connections. Even truly mediocre wines are placed and sold in 'presentation' boxes, sometimes with special latches or corkscrews. This same marketing gimmick extends to chocolates, fruits, olive oils, even to individually packaged milk containers.

Sidebyside the two wine presentation boxes appear nearly identical. Yes, to the trained eye, the smaller sized of the two might have better proportions, but this is only helpful if one is able to view them thus or has studied western design aesthetics. To avoid such deception, a far better method of examining these cases is to pay particular attention to the joinery.

Any knowledgeable woodworker will know the superiority of a box constructed with fingerjoints to one made cheaply with butt glued miter joints. Taking this observation into account can allow any confused consumer to know with a slightly greater degree of certainty that he is buying himself a bottle of Miribeau whether to impress his colleagues, local government official, or inlaws.

06 January 2015

Polychromatic symphony

I came across this mindbending example of woodworking. An instrument based on a sketch from one of Leonardo DaVinci's notebooks, a viola organista. Besides the mechanical challenges posed by building such an instrument, (Treadle powered!) I am in awe of the maker's decision to paint it such bold, primary colors.
View of interior, standing on piano stool
 I cannot find anywhere any explanation as to why he chose to not go with traditional 'Steinway' black. And I doubt the pianofortes in DaVinci's day were of similar hues.

I've been experimenting lately with milk paints on white pine and learning about pigments so this example reinforces how much more there is to surface decoration even though contemporary aesthetics tend to favor the plain, untinted wood as often as possible. Wood for the sake of wood since keeping the grain exposed insures that it is really made of a natural material, right? The average consumer, simultaneously estranged from the craft process, is also bewildered by industrial manufacturers' trickery. Vinyl siding textured with wood grain? To what ends but to deceive.
I salute you, Mr. Sławomir Zubrzycki, your playing as well as your palette.