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Milling Firewood

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. – Ecclesiastes 3:11

8" Grinder
8″ Grinder
The Thursday before Independence Day a post popped up on the local Facebook group about a tool sale. Always interested in a good deal on tools and the fact it was just a couple miles down the road I hopped in the truck to see what was there. There were some nice tools, in fact I picked up an eight inch grinder. What really caught my eye while looking around was the neatly stacked firewood behind a number of tools in the barn. From the ends I could see that a number of pieces of maple were spalted. And several pieces seemed like they would produce enough wood to be usable in smaller projects. Especially pens which Elizabeth has been showing a lot of interest in turning. The woman (and her son) who were selling the tools graciously allowed me to buy some of the pieces of firewood and I loaded them up into the back of the truck.

Spalted Maple Firewood
Spalted Maple Firewood

I brought in a couple pieces of the wood into the shop. Since I don’t have a moisture meter I figured I would try a couple of the pieces and see how they react. I didn’t want to cut up everything and find out they all curl and twist. It turns out it is a good thing I didn’t go too wild milling it all up as there is still enough moisture in the wood that it will cup and twist as it dries. Though there are a couple tricks to deal with that, like microwaving the thinner pieces at lower powers for a while.

Firewood on the Jointer
Firewood on the Jointer
The first step to milling is getting a couple decent reference edges. For that I brought the wood over to the jointer and removed the blade guard. This is not suggested behavior, but I’ve found when more or less free-handing like this the guard just gets into the way. I started with the heartwood and holding the log so the outer part of the log was mostly level to the bed of the jointer. Next I needed a reference edge 90º to the bottom and rotated the log. This edge does not need to be the entire edge as it is only going to be used as a reference surface on the bandsaw table in the next step.
Rough Reference Edge
Rough Reference Edge
So rather than removing a ton of extra material as wood chips I will still get a decent portion of the log as usable material. Trying to minimize waste is essential to getting the most usable lumber out of the logs.

The heartwood of the log does not have any spalting through it so it really isn’t as desirable for my purposes. If you were going to be milling up some wood that you would otherwise not have access to or wanted more of the wood, you could obviously choose to skip this next step. I removed the heartwood by cutting with the log on the rough reference edge on the surface of the bandsaw table. This left me with the remainder of the log having quite a bit of spalting throughout.

Ripping Parallel Edges
Ripping Parallel Edges
I then turned the log 90º to rip the rough edge parallel to the partially cleaned up edge from the jointer. This revealed what I figured would be the case, that a line of spalting would separate the darker heartwood of the tree from an outer lighter sap wood which head been weakened from the mold colonies. I could see some of that along the ends of the logs, but it was nice to see that it would carry through both edges.

Removed Bark Edge
Removed Bark Edge
Removing the bark edge is the next step. This worked out really well since I had tried to make the bottom about as parallel as possible to the outer edge of the log. Since the sap wood was quite a bit softer, not quite to the punky state that some spalted wood gets, it cut very easily. The rest of the cuts I went nice and slow with to get the best cut I could manage, this one was about half the time. The outer edge did not show much of the lines of the mold colonies. This makes sense since the edges will likely not be near the surface of the log.

At this point I have a four sided square log. One of the tougher parts of this step is trying to imagine what you might find within the wood. In my case I took one of the edges and cut about a 5″ portion off the end with the miter saw to make a small bandsaw box. With the remaining section I ripped two small boards about 7/8″ thick in a quarter sawn fashion. This gave me the two book matched pieces which I will turn into a pen box. Additionally I left another piece together which was a couple inches square and about 9″ long, which I will probably try turning either a goblet or candlestick. Some additional pieces were used to make pen blanks for my wife to make some pens.

Usable Material from Log
Usable Material from Log
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Carbide Tip Lathe Tools

Shall the axe boast over him who hews with it, or the saw magnify itself against him who wields it? As if a rod should wield him who lifts it, or as if a staff should lift him who is not wood! – Isaiah 10:15

Back in May my folks picked up a lathe for my birthday and Christmas. My wife has expressed interest in turning so for Mother’s Day I picked up a pen turning kit with which she turned her first pen. One of the things she discovered was that turning the burl with the high speed steel lathe tools was… less than effective. So in the end I can’t give her a less than effective Mother’s Day gift so something must be done. We borrowed my father’s carbide lathe tool so she could finish up the pan and it worked great.

There are two major components to carbide tip lathe tools, the metal bar the carbide tip mounts into and a handle. I suppose you could get away with one, just using a bar, but that would seem like a shame since you are presumably making beautiful items with the tool on the lathe and making a nice looking handle really isn’t that much work.

I used 1/2″ square and round steel bars. Each of the metal bars were cut down to about 12″ in length. At the bench grinder I ground away a rabbet about the thickness of one of the carbide cutters about 3/4″ down the length of the bar. Then using a file I cleaned up the rabbet to make a flat mounting surface. The bar was then mounted in a vice at the drill press to have a hole drilled to tap for a machine screw to mount the cutter. The machine screws needed a small amount of counter sinking so the hole was followed up with a wider drill bit just below the surface of the rabbet.

Tapping the hole is a bit of an art form. As you screw the tap into the hole small bits of the metal come off the walls of the hole which gum up the gullets of the tap. So you can only take a couple turns before the tap will just break off if you don’t reverse the cutting and clean out the gullets. A little machine oil helps keep things going mostly smoothly. Each hole took several minutes to tap since it took 5-8 times of screwing the tap in and reversing it to clear out the gullets. Testing each of the holes after tapping was also necessary to make sure that the threads engaged correctly.

After the holes were tapped the nose of the tool then needed to be ground back. Back at the bench grinder the tip is rounded so that then cutters will engage the wood without having the material on the lathe hitting the nose of the tool. Also, for smaller cutters it was necessary to grind back nearly all the way to the counter sink. But make sure you leave a complete flat surface for the cutter to rest on when tightened into the tool.

I rummaged through the scrap bin for small pieces which could be machined down to 3/4″ and about 12″ long. Then I matched the pieces I had remaining into groups of 2 matching pairs. Each pair was glued up to make a 1 1/2″ x 3/4″ half of a blank. Then each of the halves was hand planed flat so that it would join smoothly with the other half of the blank.

At the router table a dado was just slightly oversized into both halves of the blank about 4″ long. When the two faces were then placed against each other a bar could slide into the square hole and the bar was snug. The two halves were then glued together using a bar slid into the hole for alignment. Then removed once the clamps were applied.

Once the glue was dried a 1/2″ plug was created and cut flush with the end of the blank. This plug would be used on the tail stock side of the lathe to center the handle. The handled was then turned round at about 700 rpm. Once round the lathe was turned up to about 1500 rpm. By the tail stock a tenon for the ferrule was cut about 3/4″ long. Then the rest of the handle was shaped. Most of the handles wound up with a bulb on the end and another bulb around the ferrule. The last one was shaped with a slight taper from the back to front for about 2/3 the length and then widened slightly for the last bit up to the ferrule, which is a preferred shape in my hands.

I had a couple 3/4″ copper pipe fittings which I cut in half on the lathe. I turned a quick 3/4″ dowel and used one of the carbide cutters to cut the fitting in half. At least that was the cleanest method I came up with without having a pipe cutter to use.

Assembly was done with epoxy. The epoxy was mixed and a little spatulaed down the hole in the handle. The bar was scored a couple times with a file and epoxy smeared on it and the bar was slid into the hole. Finally a little bit of epoxy was applied to the wood on the ferrule and the copper ferrule slid into place. The whole assembly was then clamped together and left to cure.

Due to the excessive amounts of epoxy all over the place I had to use an old chisel to scrap it off the bars. Then I used a file to file the epoxy off of the ferrule, which was good, since they looked much better after being evenly filed. And the handles themselves were re-sanded to 600 grit because of the epoxy all over those. Finally boiled linseed oil was used to finish the handles and they were hung up and left to dry.

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Tractor Cab Build

Living in middle of a cornfield in west Michigan means that in the winter you have to deal with freezing temperatures, wind, and drifting snow. Last year which was pretty extraordinary had 6 foot banks along portions of the west side of the drive and 4 foot banks along the east. The wind would blow any loose snow into the valley between the two and just fill it up. I had to spend a couple hours clearing the drive any time we’d get even an inch or two as it would collect up to a foot or more of drifted in snow. To keep the wind off myself I had a vinyl cab which was considered a delicacy among the local field mice last summer.

tractor_cab_mark_i Upon returning home from hunting this fall to a foot of snow on the drive I hastily (4 hours) assembled the Tractor Cab Mark I with the idea that it would be sufficient. It featured a tilted windshield, short sides, a hinged door, and enough height to not quite clear the shed door when back in too quickly. As implied by the last “feature” after a particularly cold day as I was backing into the shed the top caught and basically crushed the cab shattering a couple pieces of plexiglass and destroying the hastily assembled joinery. Which isn’t really a shame since there was hardly a square joint on the whole thing. Additional flaws included the lack door not shutting properly since it was only framed on 2 1/2 sides. The sides were too short which meant there was little in the way of wind protection from inside the cab. The space above the snowblower controls were also too short, which meant smashing you hands when dropping the blower. And finally the back was completely open without any plexiglass.

Tractor Cab Mark II design took into account the shortcomings of the Mark I design. The Mark I was disassembled so I could reused some of the material, though in reality it turned out that just the original windshield, front mount, and hinges from the door turned out to be the only components which were really reused. Early in the new build I added another 2×4″ height on the front mount to allow better access to the snowblower controls. The entire front end then used a drop design to a much lower height from that front mount. This allowed better coverage from the wind and framing completely around the door, which added rigidity to the whole cab and kept the door frame square.

Rather than attempting to freehand the angled windshield again I kept that portion square. This simplified things for the cuts which I had basically freehanded on the Mark I. Hanging the door (not seen in the video because single digit temps chew through camera batteries way too fast) was done by measuring the inside door dimensions and undersizing the door by about 1/2″ vertically and a 1/4″ horizontally. This allowed me handle any sagging or flex of the frame when on the cab when mounted on the tractor which turned out quite successfully. I shimmed the door itself a 1/4″ when hanging the door and attaching the hinges.

Cutting the panels fairly straight forward (it helps when everything is square). I just laid out the cut lines after measuring and secured the fence with clamps at the correct distance. The 2x10s on top of the saw horses are a sacrificial table which can be cut into. I kept the blade depth shallow enough so that it doesn’t damage the strength of the 2x10s much at all. A marker is used to trace the shape of the opening. Then the plexiglass is cut the same way with the protective sheet of plastic still on so it doesn’t get scratched. Holes are pre-drilled so the when attaching the plexiglass to the cab it doesn’t shatter.

Manhandling the cab onto the tractor was a bit of a trick. The weight wasn’t so bad, but the bulk made it difficult to wrestle into place. The Mark I’s shorter sides allowed the cab to be held on with a ratchet strap, being hooked on the wheel wells of the tractor. With the lower sides to keep out the wind, the Mark II required a new solution. I added a couple eye-hooks inside the cab and used bungee cords to secure the cab to the tractor. Two along the back and two hooked to the front.

In the end the single drawback is that the Mark II design is a bit wider which means the I cannot get quite as close various objects like the trailer or a parked vehicle. Even taller snow banks will catch on the side of the tractor cab. For the purpose of keeping the wind and snow off of me while I am clearing the driveway, it works pretty well.

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