New Table Saw

After a cou­ple of years of using a portable table saw, which actu­al­ly belongs to my old­er broth­er (thanks, Steve!), I decid­ed to pur­chase an upgrad­ed table saw for my wood­work­ing projects. I’ll describe a bit of why I decid­ed on this mod­el and what I think of it in this post.

Cut­ting angled dados

The Old Saw

First, about the old table saw. It’s a Ryobi and it real­ly did serve me well on quite a few projects. I cer­tain­ly pushed the lim­it of what this saw is capa­ble of. And for prob­a­bly 90% of the projects, it was up to the task. Seri­ous­ly, for a lot of DIY’ers, this is a per­fect­ly good saw. I put a qual­i­ty blade (a 50 tooth Freud Dia­blo), which dra­mat­i­cal­ly improves the cut of any saw. I built a cross-cut sled that made a lot of cuts fea­si­ble.

Ryobi Job Site Saw
The ‘lil 15-amp champ that I’ve used for about 3 years.

But the saw is very light­weight, and some­times push­ing the sled into the blade would actu­al­ly start to tip the entire saw! Also, the fence while actu­al­ly pret­ty accu­rate, isn’t great. So, if you’re just rip­ping medi­um size pieces or mak­ing small cross-cuts, this saw can man­age it. I actu­al­ly even man­aged to rip down bed rails from a full size 4’x8’ sheet of 3/4″ maple ply­wood on this lit­tle thing! One place where this kind of saw just com­plete­ly fails, though, is in dust col­lec­tion. That is, there is none oth­er than grav­i­ty gen­er­al­ly mak­ing a giant pile beneath the saw.

New Saws Out There

I did quite a lot of research on table saws. I did con­sid­er a “job site” saw and putting it on a mobile base (or even re-build­ing my mobile work­bench). These are some pret­ty great saws in the $250-$600 price range. The next jump up in price range is a “hybrid” table saw, which is nom­i­nal­ly portable (if “portable” only means hav­ing cast­ers and weigh­ing under 250 lbs). These have the larg­er table of a cab­i­net saw and typ­i­cal­ly bet­ter fence sys­tems. These tend to be in the $700-$1,200 price range. Of course, there are cab­i­net saws for pro­fes­sion­als which cost far more, typ­i­cal­ly require 220v pow­er, and are far more saw than I could ever jus­ti­fy. And there are Saw Stop saws in all these cat­e­gories and while their flesh-sens­ing sys­tem is amaz­ing, I also can’t jus­ti­fy the cost for those. Real­ly, Saw Stop sort of sit in a class of their own, in my opin­ion.

With­in the hybrid saw class, most of the saws are real­ly around $1,000 and up. There are some great saws in that price range. The big box stores have a cou­ple of “entry” lev­el mod­els, though: the Ridgid and a Delta (why Lowes has­n’t label-slapped this as a Kobalt, I don’t real­ly know). Between the two of those, the Delta seemed to typ­i­cal­ly get bet­ter reviews and was a bit cheap­er at $600 at the time I pur­chased it (July 2020). Fur­ther, the Delta just got a new­er ver­sion released with some decent improve­ments. Home Depot actu­al­ly does also car­ry the Delta, but at $300 more.

Same saw at two very dif­fer­ent prices at the big box stores.

The Delta 36–725T2

So what kind of table saw do you get for $600? First of all, a Biese­mey­er fence sys­tem, which can cost over $400 sep­a­rate­ly. The cen­ter of the table is cast iron and the wings are steel. I found that the top may have a slight dip to the mid­dle (that is, I could see a slight bit of light beneath a straight edge laid across it), but is more than flat enough for any­thing I’ll ever want to make. The wings aren’t stamped sheet met­al, but actu­al­ly steel plate, sim­i­lar in thick­ness to the angle rails and square tube used for the front fence. Even the blade that is includ­ed is pret­ty decent. I ripped two 4′ lengths of 3/4″ ply­wood to make some French cleats and it was a clean cut on both. And while the dust col­lec­tion isn’t per­fect, it’s actu­al­ly quite good. Also, the mitre includ­ed has a nice steel bar and heavy plas­tic body.

Dust after rip­ping 8′ of 1/2″ birch ply­wood

The entire saw took me about 2–1/2 hours to assem­ble, and that includes hav­ing to take apart almost the entire thing to swap the side the swiv­el cast­er was on. Also, I should have paid clos­er atten­tion to the hole pat­terns on the wings, as I had to turn those around and re-lev­el them. If I’d paid clos­er atten­tion, I could have eas­i­ly been done in under two hours with­out rush­ing. My wife did need to help me get the box out of the back of our SUV by low­er­ing one end down to the floor. Oth­er­wise, I was able to put the saw togeth­er by myself, includ­ing tip­ping it up (I used an extra scrap 2x to help tip it easy so I could get my hands under the cast iron top and just squat lift).

Ful­ly assem­bled!

The scale on the rail was near­ly spot-on out of the box. Sim­i­lar­ly, the saw was very close to par­al­lel to the mitre slots. How close? Well, I could­n’t actu­al­ly mea­sure the dif­fer­ence with a qual­i­ty slid­ing square, but I could hear a tooth rub­bing the end more at one end than the oth­er. So yeah, pret­ty close. The fence is pret­ty spot on and super easy to adjust. I saw a few review­ers com­ment­ing that the angle gauge was off, but mine was with­in 1–2 tenths of a degree. It’s also easy to adjust (and, hon­est­ly, I have a dig­i­tal angle gauge so I’m more like­ly to rely on that any­way). I haven’t run into any­thing about the saw so far that I could­n’t quick­ly tweak.

Angle between blade and top at just past the 45° mark

The saw is a bit big­ger than I’d hoped, though (hold on, I’ll explain). I had planned on just rolling it beneath my fixed work bench. Since I could­n’t, I end­ed up hav­ing to re-arrange a lot in my garage. This was my biggest wor­ry, but it end­ed up just fine and frankly, hav­ing to clean up the garage was­n’t the worst thing in the world. For­tu­nate­ly, the cast­ers are pret­ty good and the saw rolls & turns very eas­i­ly despite weigh­ing 220 lbs. I’ve moved it in and out of the “parked” spot sev­er­al times for use now and it’s not been a both­er.

Using the Saw

So I’ve used the saw for sev­er­al dif­fer­ent cuts now. As I men­tioned ear­li­er, I did sev­er­al long-ish rips of ply­wood to make some French cleats. I also end­ed up hav­ing to cut down sides and back pan­els of an IKEA wall van­i­ty (pine and hard­board). I used the mitre gage to make the cross cuts on the side pan­els as I haven’t made a new sled for this table saw yet. How­ev­er, the mitre gage worked great for this pur­pose. I cut about half-way through the side piece, flipped it over and repeat­ed. This reduced tear-out on both faces (and by reduced, I mean there was zero). But of course, to do this you have to have the blade dead par­al­lel to the mitre gage and it was (again, right out of the box!).

Set­ting up for some cross cuts using the miter gage

The fence has a small rail that folds out on the right-hand side to make cuts on thin stock, such as the hard board back pan­els. This works per­fect and pre­vents the mate­r­i­al from slid­ing under the fence (which sits about 1/8″ above the table top). I also used the table saw to cut an angled dado into a poplar board, which was used to make a tablet/phone stand. I also used the saw to cut down some 1/4″ under­lay­ment boards for a tiling project. So, not a ton of use, but a pret­ty good vari­ety of types of cuts and every­one has had me even more hap­py with the pur­chase.

I do wish I’d cleaned and waxed the cast iron top as soon as I got it put togeth­er, though. It took only about 2–3 days for the Ten­nessee sum­mer humid­i­ty to charm some rust out of the cast iron. I’ve since sand­ed, cleaned, and waxed it, but now there are some stains in the cast iron. They don’t in any way affect the saw, but good tools are worth tak­ing good care of.

Last­ly, one fea­ture I did­n’t know that I’d like so much is just how qui­et this saw is. The mag­net­ic start but­ton is great and the saw is so much qui­eter than my shop vac, I can bare­ly hear it!

Misc

A cou­ple of things I had been curios about before get­ting it, so I’ll answer those here just in case any­one else is inter­est­ed:

  • The box is 30″ x 24″ x 19″ and includes every­thing, includ­ing the rails (I think the larg­er top ver­sion has a sep­a­rate box).
  • A Lowes employ­ee helped me load the box onto a flat cart and a cou­ple of oth­ers loaded it into my vehi­cle for me, but my wife and I were able to slide it out and down out of the back of the SUV. Beats pay­ing a $60–70 deliv­ery fee!
  • The length of the rear rail is 54 3/8″ and the dis­tance from the spread­er bar to the end of rear rail is 2 1/2″. The front rail is 62″. I think I was able to look up all the oth­er dimen­sions online.
  • The tubu­lar frame is crazy strong (like, I’m a struc­tur­al engi­neer and I’ve seen build­ings with small­er tube mem­bers); though it is rec­tan­gu­lar. That is to say, you can rotate the low­er half so the swiv­el lift cast­er is on the left or right, but not the front or back.
  • The three cast­er wheel occa­sion­al­ly “tips” a bit, but the cor­ner of the frame pre­vents it from tip­ping more than just a few inch­es. So, the saw isn’t going to fall over on you; just occa­sion­al­ly catch if you make some aggres­sive maneu­vers while mov­ing it.

Thinking About John Lewis

We lost a giant among men today. I just watched the doc­u­men­tary John Lewis: Good Trou­ble a cou­ple of weeks ago. Though his life took him from rur­al Alaba­ma, Nashville, Atlanta, and the to D.C., he moved the nation for­ward along his jour­ney. This clip from when he won the Nation­al Book Award gives me some sense of the scale of how far he came in his life.

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Prob­a­bly the best Ama­zon order I ever made

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Let’s all remem­ber the debt we owe Con­gress­man Lewis and more impor­tant­ly, that it isn’t yet paid. Even ‑or, per­haps espe­cial­ly- white folks like me owe him a debt of grat­i­tude. Through his lead­er­ship and non­vi­o­lent protests, he forced us to see Christ in those that do not look exact­ly like us. As this coun­try pulls down mon­u­ments to those whose deeds betrayed the nation’s ideals, let us con­sid­er that stat­ues should instead be erect­ed to those who made the nation greater than the one they were born into.

It believes in itself

It does­n’t take itself too seri­ous­ly but it believes in itself.

Tai­ka Wait­i­ti

In the round-table dis­cus­sion slash behind the scenes doc­u­men­tary series, Dis­ney Gallery: The Man­do­lo­ri­an, Tai­ka Wait­i­ti dis­cuss­es direct­ing the sea­son 1 finale. I love this quote as it sum­maries so well the idea of be true and earnest, with­out a fear of ridicule or need for val­i­da­tion. Sim­ply the joy of can be val­i­da­tion enough. It real­ly sum­ma­rizes a lot of Wait­i­ti’s work (at least the parts I’m famil­iar with), like Thor: Rag­narok. But it’s real­ly true of any­thing worth being pas­sion­ate about: your joy of the thing is enough.

Sabbath Drive

This is a post that has been a very long time in the mak­ing. I start­ed this project back in Octo­ber of 2018. Gui­tarPCB had a sale and it looked like their Sab­o­tage Dri­ve would be an inter­est­ing chal­lenge. There were six (!) tran­sis­tors in this cir­cuit. But I want­ed to make this a real­ly fun project so I designed some cus­tom art­work as well, all themed around Black Sab­bath — the inspi­ra­tion of this cir­cuit’s sound. This cir­cuit fur­ther seems to be inspired by Catal­in­bread­’s Sab­bra Cadabra ped­al, anoth­er pre-amp in a box effects that tries to cap­ture Tony Iom­mi’s sound of a Dal­las Range­mas­ter tre­ble boost push­ing a Laney Super­group head1. Or, put it anoth­er way, the sound of doom met­al!

Sabbath Drive Workstation
Sol­der­ing com­po­nents for the Sab­bath Dri­ve project

I did some lay­out in an SVG file for the graph­ics, which you can see above. This is also large­ly where I did the drill hole pat­terns for the enclo­sure, as those go hand-in-hand. My graph­ics incor­po­rat­ed some of the Sab­bath album cov­ers. I was fair­ly proud of the design, if not the actu­al imple­men­ta­tion. I then got to sol­der­ing the cir­cuit com­po­nents. Bar­ry Stein­del of Gui­tarPCB did a great job design­ing this for a rel­a­tive­ly com­plex build, it is a very clean lay­out.

Sabbath Drive PCB Resistors
Resis­tors and tran­sis­tor sock­ets in place

I think I’ve men­tioned this before, but I am in the habit of tap­ing out all the com­po­nents to a parts sheet with labels that cor­re­spond to the PCB silk screen labels. This would­n’t scale up to a large pro­duc­tion, but for one-at-a-time builds, it real­ly takes the stress out of try­ing to find the right com­po­nent for each step.

Sabbath Drive Component Leads
Com­po­nent leads being cut
Sabbath Drive Components
Close-up of the tran­sis­tors being placed in the sock­ets — bend those leads!

Once the com­po­nents were in place, it was time to final­ize the enclo­sure lay­out. The rel­a­tive place­ment of the pots/knobs are fixed since they are sol­dered direct­ly to the PCB. But the place­ment of every­thing else is depen­dent on get­ting it all to fit. I would have loved top-mount­ed jacks as you can see in the orig­i­nal sketch below, but that was­n’t going to hap­pen with this PCB lay­out (in the size of enclo­sure I chose, any­way). I need­ed to for­go that in order to squeeze every­thing in place. Regard­less, no 9v bat­tery in here! I don’t use ’em any­way.

Sabbath Drive Enclosure Layout
“Dry fit­ting” the off board com­po­nents and con­trols for the lay­out

When it comes to drilling the enclo­sure, I use a step bit in my drill press. Anoth­er thing I’ve prob­a­bly men­tioned: I have a small med­i­cine syringe with machine cut­ting flu­id. That way I can use my cen­ter punch to mark the point on my tem­plate and the put 1–2 drops of cut­ting flu­id right at that spot.

Sabbath Drive Drill Press
Drilling the enclo­sure holes

As you can see below, I actu­al­ly test­ed the cir­cuit before I even com­plet­ed drilling all the lay­out holes. I drilled the holes for the pots to get those mount­ed to the PCB in the cor­rect ori­en­ta­tion. I think wired up some leads for sig­nal in/out, the 9v pow­er, and ground to hook up to my test­ing rig.

Sabbath Drive Test Box
Test­ing the effect on the my test­ing rig

Then it was time to fin­ish drilling the holes and wiring up the off board switch, jacks, and LED.

Sabbath Drive Case Layout
Off-board wiring in progress (I don’t recall why there was a third jack!)

It was a bit of a tight fit into the enclo­sure, but part of that was my desire to place the LED near the top of the ped­al I real­ly don’t like LEDs right by the footswitch, where the get cov­ered up by your foot! Sure, they’re a lot eas­i­er to put there, but they don’t make it easy to tell you’ve prop­er­ly engaged the effect.

Sabbath Drive Offboard Wiring
Com­plet­ing the off-board wiring

I tried using our vinyl cut­ting machine to cre­ate paint­ing a paint­ing tem­plate from my SVG file. My first mis­take was using some cheap vinyl which did­n’t stick to the pow­der-coat­ed sur­face well.

Sabbath Drive Vinyl Cutter
Cut­ting the paint tem­plate on our Cri­cut

Then I used acrylic paint which bled under that tem­plate. Also, the tiny let­ter­ing details were just about beyond the scale was which the Cri­cut could suc­cess­ful­ly cut this vinyl. The end result looked about like I’d just hand-paint­ed the whole thing. I was­n’t at all hap­py with the paint job, but know­ing I was­n’t like­ly to improve on it, I went ahead and sealed it with some spray clear coat.

Sabbath Drive Paint Template
Vinyl paint tem­plate trans­ferred to the enclo­sure
Sabbath Drive Painting
Acrylic paint on the tem­plate

So I fin­ished all this Decem­ber of 2018. I nev­er post­ed about it all last year though because I real­ly was­n’t able to get a good sound record­ing of this. My iPhone demos so far have been pret­ty lack­lus­ter. And this effect did­n’t sound as great as I’d liked any­way because it’s real­ly meant to run into a cranked amp. Though I used my pre-amp, pas­sive vol­ume con­trol I could­n’t real­ly push the pow­er amp sec­tion of my tube head. Well, in the past cou­ple of months I got a pow­er atten­u­a­tor and a pret­ty good mic to record some audio with. My ampli­fi­er has a “cab emu­la­tion” out­put, as does the pow­er atten­u­a­tor but both frankly sound pret­ty ter­ri­ble. None of the record­ings with those ever had any of the low end that the amp actu­al­ly pro­duces. But using the atten­u­a­tor with the head vol­ume cranked and the mic into my record­ing inter­face, I’m final­ly hap­py with the sound I can get record­ed.

So here is the full sig­nal chain:

  • My Fend­er Tele­cast­er with a Lace Sen­sor Death­buck­er pick­up in the bridge posi­tion2
  • This runs through a TC Elec­tron­ic P0lytune 3 (I men­tion this because it has a buffer — all oth­er effects are true bypass) and then into the Sab­bath Dri­ve ped­al.
  • The Black­star HT5 Met­al head on the clean chan­nel (cranked to 10) and a TC Elec­tron­ic Hall of Fame 2 reverb ped­al in the effects loop.
  • The head runs through the Bugera PS1 pow­er atten­u­a­tor into the Black­star 1x12” cab­i­net with a Celestion G‑12T speak­er.
  • The cab­i­net is mic’d with a MXR R144 rib­bon mic into the Behringer UMC22 audio inter­face.

I use some of the EQ set­ting in garage band for the gui­tar and the over­all mix. This par­tic­u­lar record­ing was used with one of the “auto” drum­mers in Garage Band. This video is the live record­ing you’re hear­ing; just poor­ly sync’d to the audio. The gui­tar is a sin­gle track.

*cough, cough* Sweet Leaf — Black Sab­bath (with all apolo­gies to Tony Iom­mi)

On the whole, I’m real­ly pleased with the sound of this ped­al. The Range and Pres­ence con­trols give a real­ly wide tonal range. I’ve cranked the dis­tor­tion here (hon­est­ly, not even sure why that knob exists! Just fix it at 10!). The vol­ume is about at noon. I shud­der to think just how loud this ped­al would be with that cranked.

Also, for ref­er­ence, here is a short demo I did of a Sleep song (“The Druid,” only slow­er tem­po) using the cab emu­la­tor from my amp head. The sound is def­i­nite­ly more “fizzy” and flat here.
  1. For the record, even though the old­er Sab­bath records were record­ed using those, it does­n’t appear Tony Iom­mi uses those any more. He has a sig­na­ture Laney head that appears to have the tre­ble boost “built in”. Laney also has a sim­i­lar, sig­na­ture ped­al which claims to box all this up, but appar­ent­ly Iom­mi does­n’t use it at all accord­ing to his site. []
  2. Yes, I need to write an entire post on my gui­tar and the mod­i­fi­ca­tions I’ve made to it. []

Hello From the Inside

Sneak­ing in at the end of the month…

Like most all of Amer­i­ca (and the world), I’m stay­ing home these days, hop­ing to avoid the spread of coro­n­avirus. Of course, I’ve worked from home for over twelve years now, so what’s new? Well, for­tu­nate­ly, my spouse is also able to work from home. We are both gain­ful­ly employed for the fore­see­able future (which admit­ted­ly, isn’t as long as was a month ago). Our kids are old enough to be respon­si­ble through­out the day to large­ly see to them­selves. In those ways, we are excep­tion­al­ly for­tu­nate. May folks are see­ing reduced ours, being fur­loughed, or even laid off of work all togeth­er. Many peo­ple are weath­er­ing this alone. Many more are deal­ing this while hav­ing to care for defen­dants that need far more atten­tion.

But even for us, it can be tough. So I tru­ly empathize with those who are deal­ing with far more issues than we are. So to those who read this, do try to take care of your­selves. These are tough times. It’s best to admit that we’re all hav­ing to deal with this to some degree. But it’s also good to acknowl­edge that every­one else is, too. Find some­things to help you keep per­spec­tive.

I’ll try to share some pho­tos of some of the high­lights of what we’ve been up to soon. I think I should be able to find some time…

Content Strategy: How Long is This Gonna Take?

It’s the very end of the month (a leap month, no less! I had an extra day!) and I’ve got a cou­ple of projects I want to post about, but they’re still in progress. So, instead of some per­son­al cre­ative or DIY stuff, I want­ed to post about some­thing more work-relat­ed for me. From the very begin­ning of my work as a tech­ni­cal writer, I described my approach to how I see my doc­u­men­ta­tion work being used as fol­lows:

  1. Imme­di­ate: tool tip, pop-ups, hov­er info in your IDE. 
  2. Quick answer: F1 on what a dia­log field val­ues are or a function/method
  3. Long answer: search the docs and poke around until I find my answer
  4. Learn­ing: Inten­tion­al read­ing, in the order pre­sent­ed, if the doc­u­men­ta­tion

Lev­els 0 & 1 both start in soft­ware or code and end there. This has the least and next-to-least inter­rup­tion to your work. The answer is imme­di­ate­ly when you need it or just a click & scroll away.

Lev­el 2 is often back and forth between docs and soft­ware. This inher­ent­ly can feel tedious. Often, this results in not even find­ing what you need (unless you were look­ing for frus­tra­tion). Unfor­tu­nate­ly, this is also where a lot of prod­uct help leaves you.

Lev­el 3 is sole­ly in the docs. You’re no longer per­form­ing your pri­ma­ry goal or job func­tion. This was not so com­mon for new employ­ees or employ­ees who just got a new tool in the work­place at one time. It feels like a rare lux­u­ry today, though. Too many work­places pri­or­i­tize keep­ing pro­duc­tive day-to-day over mak­ing their employ­ees pro­duc­tive in the longer term.

So, what’s the point? Lev­el 0 & 1 should be the goals, but they require sig­nif­i­cant more plan­ning and coor­di­na­tion with prod­uct devel­op­ers and UX design­ers. And, if we’re being hon­est, mak­ing Lev­el 2 work effec­tive­ly is going to require some of the same. And if you’re writ­ing man­u­als like any­one has the time for Lev­el 3, you’re shoot­ing your­self in the foot for all of the oth­er cas­es.

First Box Joint Test

So, if you hap­pened to read my post last month on injur­ing myself, you’ll recall I did so because I was hop­ing to make a box joint jig. A box joint, or as it also known: a fin­ger joint, is a series of over­lap­ping “fin­gers” along a joint. This style of join­ery gives lots of glue sur­face area as well as shear strength to a cor­ner joint. It’s com­mon­ly used for the cor­ners of a box, thus the name.

Well, I did man­age to make a first attempt at a jig and made a sin­gle joint test. I was hop­ing to use my stan­dard table saw blade with my sled in lieu of pur­chas­ing a dado stack1. The jig is a bit too loose in the cuts and it’s pos­si­ble my table saw sled is a bit too loose in the miter slots, as well. This com­bined with some cheap­er birch ply­wood (there are lots of voids and a very thin veneer) result­ed in the fin­gers look­ing more like a box­er who’d just fought Mike Tyson.

Some loose and chipped fin­gers

Also, the depth of the cuts were a bit too deep (which is easy to adjust, at least). But glu­ing up the loose joints was a mess.

You can see some of the over­lap here

I had sort of giv­en up on the exper­i­ment as a fail­ure, but I did recent­ly go back and sand the fin­gers down; this time on pur­pose (yeah, I get the humor after last mon­th’s inci­dent). The joint still does­n’t look great but it was­n’t as “gap‑y” as it seemed before cleanup. What’s more, I can attest that even as poor as this one looks, it is incred­i­bly strong. It’s not espe­cial­ly pret­ty, but for some util­i­ty box­es, it would def­i­nite­ly serve it’s pur­pose.

Noth­ing a bit of wood filler and fin­ish could­n’t make look nice

So, this was­n’t a total fail­ure and I did learn a lot from the exer­cise, includ­ing the injury. Which, my fin­gers have com­plete­ly healed back, nails and all. As a result of “baby­ing” the left index fin­ger, I did devel­op ten­donitis in my left elbow (which is real­ly the fore­arm mus­cles and ten­don con­nec­tion). So, that lit­tle inci­dent con­tin­ues to remind me to be safe!

  1. A dado stack is a pair of blades, often with inter­me­di­ate spacer/chippers in between which cut out a wider sec­tion of mate­r­i­al in each pass on a table saw. []

Cicero Footstool

A few years ago when I was con­sid­er­ing get­ting into more “fine” wood­work­ing, there was one project that came to mind: recre­at­ing the foot­stools my grand­fa­ther, Cicero, used to make. He was a handy wood­work­er and built a lot of use­ful projects1 I know we had two or three of these foot­stools around the house grow­ing up. I assume my aunts and cousins may have had some, as well. They’re per­haps not a mas­ter crafts­man project, but let’s not over-esti­mate my abil­i­ties. As my mom put it, though, after about a half cen­tu­ry, they’re still in use!

Foot­stool built by my grand­fa­ther along with my orig­i­nal notes and sketch­es

So in 2016 I sat down to care­ful­ly draw out the pieces. His were all made from 1″ thick sol­id pine, but I fig­ured I’d use 3/4″ ply­wood instead. The legs and sides have a rough­ly 10° slant such that the base tapers up to give a slight lip all around the top footrest. I also decid­ed to add a hand­hold to the top of mine (some oth­ers of his may have this, but the one that sits in our kitchen does not). On my notes and sketch­es, I also doo­dled out a logo that read “Cicero Hand Made Crafts. Est. 2016”. I fig­ured he was the “mak­er” in my fam­i­ly so I’d hon­or that by label­ing made items with his name.

My orig­i­nal Cicero logo sketch

It took me about a year-and-a-half until I actu­al­ly got around to mak­ing my first foot­stool. I batched out the pieces on the table saw for two foot­stools from a 2’x4’ project board of 3/4″ maple ply­wood. Some of the angle cuts using my cut pat­tern result­ed in a col­or mis-match in the wood, but this could prob­a­bly be resolved by buy­ing high­er qual­i­ty ply­wood in the future. The band­saw was used for all curves, includ­ing cut­ting the arch­es in the legs at 10° (so they’re actu­al­ly lev­el when assem­bled). I used the drill press and a 1 5/8″ forstner bit to hog out mate­r­i­al for the han­dle (which I then cleaned up with a series of rasps, files, and sand­pa­per). The disc and belt sander were used to clean up all the edges (with care not to remove any more fin­ger nails). My super-sim­ple router table was used to add a 1/4″ round-over to edges. I then used the ran­dom orbital sander to clean every­thing up.

Cut mate­r­i­al for the first foot­stool

I used made an assem­bly jig for the first piece and used pock­et holes to attach the legs to the top (some­thing my grand­fa­ther did­n’t have but he seemed like a prac­ti­cal enough per­son, he’d have used them if he could have). I attached the side run­ners to the legs with some counter-sunk wood screws (black). I used a light col­or wood filler for any ply gaps (or oth­er blem­ish­es). Final­ly, a gen­er­ous coat of wipe-on polyurethane was applied for a fin­ish.

Jig hold­ing up leg at cor­rect angle and spac­ing for pock­et holes
My daugh­ter help­ing apply fin­ish to the foot­stool for her grand­moth­er
First foot­stool assem­bly — note that I used a lot more round-overs in this build

I assem­bled the first foot­stool as a Christ­mas gift for my old­er broth­er last year and then com­plet­ed the sec­ond foot­stool as a Christ­mas gift for my mom this year. The process for build­ing both pieces was a learn­ing curve, so I did­n’t real­ly take great pho­tos of either build. These are a mix of both projects (which is why the tops look dif­fer­ent). I already have planned out mak­ing some addi­tion­al tem­plates to use with a trim router to help improve the process for future builds. This project is so great because it ends up using almost every pow­er tool I have. But just like every project I try, there is always some­thing new to learn even when I’ve already built the same thing before!

Assem­bled sec­ond stool before fin­ish applied
Cicero crafted stamp

  1. One of which was a long shelf for my dad’s hi-fi sys­tem; a gift to his new son-in-law. This lat­er became the plat­form which our G.I.Joe USS Flag air­craft car­ri­er play set lived! []

Hard Shop Lesson

I got a hard les­son deliv­ered today while start­ing a project in the garage this after­noon. I’ll lead in with say­ing that I’m ok (and will heal up fine in a week or so); only a bit rat­tled. Let me start with where my head was (and should­n’t have been) that got me here.

I’ve had on my “To Do” list for 2019 to learn how to make box joints. Well, here we are into Decem­ber and I’ve not even tried it. I had want­ed to spend last Sat­ur­day work­ing on it, but I let the week­end get away with me with Thanks­giv­ing and Christ­mas dec­o­ra­tions (which are fine and I was glad to get the time I had with all my fam­i­ly). This evening, I had a Cub Scout event with my son in which I was respon­si­ble for bring some audio and video equip­ment (i.e., our home AV receiv­er, speak­ers, and disc play­er). That end­ed up tak­ing a lot longer than I had antic­i­pat­ed. But I had an hour to spare so I fig­ured I’d at least get a jump start on my box joint jig, know­ing all day Sun­day (tomor­row) is going to be busy with oth­er things.

And it’s entire­ly worth under­scor­ing here: this is all arbi­trary pres­sure I’ve put on myself. Absolute­ly no one else cares if I fig­ure out how to make box joints ever, let alone today or even this year. But I had con­vinced myself that I need­ed to rush through the hour to get the table saw jig set up.

I picked out my back­ing board and was look­ing for a piece of scrap that approx­i­mate­ly the same thick­ness as my table saw blade kerf (sim­ply put, that’s the width of the cut that the table saw makes and is frac­tion­al­ly wider than the blade itself). My ini­tial plas­tic piece for the jig end­ed up a big loose the back­ing board, so I want­ed to quick­ly try a dif­fer­ent approach. Mind you, the piece I’m try­ing to cut is less than a 1/4″ thick. So I fig­ured, why not start with a thin off cut and just sand it down to the nec­es­sary thick­ness?

My pow­er sander is a com­bi­na­tion of a belt sander and 6″ disc sander. The disc of course will put a twist on any object pushed into it, so a firm grip and just being mind­ful of one side lift­ing and the oth­er push­ing down is impor­tant. I grabbed a long thing piece of scrap and tried sand­ing it on the disc, not think­ing about where my hands would go if (when) it slipped out of my grip. I also failed to put on gloves. You cer­tain­ly do not wear gloves with some pow­er tools (any­thing with a cir­cu­lar spin­ning blade), but they are a good idea with a sander.

The same pow­er sander I have. The disc spins counter-clock­wise. I don’t even have any pho­tos of my own of this pow­er tool!

With­in less than a sec­ond of me push­ing the wood into the disc, it knocked it right out of my hand and left me push­ing my fin­gers into the sand­ing disc. Now, in all the pow­er tools I have, if I had to pick one that I was going to injure myself on, it would prob­a­bly be the pow­er sander. Blades, as you can imag­ine, can quick­ly cut into flesh and cause seri­ous injury or death. I can­not imag­ine sus­tain­ing a life-threat­ing injury on a small pow­er sander like mine (though I’m not say­ing it’s impos­si­ble). But at 3600 rpm, 120 grit sand­pa­per can remove skin and nails quite rapid­ly. Cer­tain­ly faster than my reac­tion time. Before I knew it, my unnec­es­sary rush and lack of think­ing about what I was doing caused me to injure my index and mid­dle fin­gers on my left hand. My mid­dle fin­ger got the skin scraped bad­ly but my index nail is about 1/4″ too short now. And boy howdy is that sen­si­tive skin under there!

Again, it’s noth­ing seri­ous. I was able to turn off the machine and imme­di­ate­ly go treat it myself. My fin­gers are sore but the nail should grow back. Hon­est­ly, it’s the les­son I need­ed to learn. Pow­er tools are not any­thing to be in a rush around. Every action with one requires com­plete focus and atten­tion. I need to always think about how the tool could injure me based on the action the tool makes. Giv­en that I was also using my band saw and table saw today (which, I do take less for grant­ed, to be fair to myself), I’m for­tu­nate that this is the injury I end­ed up with.

As my kids join me in the shop more, I’ve had to teach them lessons about safe­ty. I’ve even had to warn my son about touch­ing that very sand­ing disc until it comes to a com­plete stop (he thought he should stop it spin­ning one day after I’d killed the pow­er). I even recent­ly watched James Hamil­ton’s (aka, Stumpy Nubs) video on injur­ing him­self with an angle grinder and remarked on the need to pay atten­tion when I’m work­ing. I firm­ly believe that the num­ber one most impor­tant piece of safe­ty equip­ment is your brain. Too bad I failed to put that and my gloves on this after­noon. I’ll do my best to take that les­son to heart from now on.

Family Game Night

We try to have a week­ly fam­i­ly game night. Usu­al­ly, this is a board game or sim­i­lar. The kids know that I have a bunch of old D&D books and are gen­er­al­ly famil­iar with the game. A cou­ple of weeks ago, a new D&D Essen­tials box set was released. This incor­po­rates a new mech­a­nism so that it’s eas­i­er for just 2 or 3 peo­ple to play (the game is typ­i­cal­ly best for 4–6 peo­ple and I don’t have that many kids). So I just off-hand­ed­ly checked that our Tar­get had the box set and asked if the kids want­ed to go with me to get it. I was sur­prised that my daugh­ter and my son were excit­ed to go out after 8pm to pick it up.

Yep, they’re def­i­nite­ly my kids.

They asked to play when we got home, so we stayed up until about 11pm rolling up some char­ac­ters and start­ing out on a first adven­ture (the one includ­ed in this boxed set). They did­n’t get a chance to fight any mon­sters but still seemed to have a good time. They’ve already asked to play again this week­end!