Friday, June 10, 2022

Totally Cherry

         It has been more than two years since I have made something- like, actually made something, not just modified or laser etched it, but actually crafted it with my hands from scratch. The Rogue Cthulhu dice boxes were probably the last thing I really made. 

        Not gonna lie, things have been rough. Rogue Cthulhu has been retired. My gaming days have come to an end. Book of Shadows, my store, has been shut down. The building was badly vandalized and it did not make economic sense to make the repairs needed to stay open. My mental health continues to struggle. I can go weeks without leaving the house or even getting dressed. So, at this stage, for me to make something is a major achievement. But, I sold a rune set on Etsy today, and I think that gave me a little spark of energy. 

        It's not quite finished yet, but it's close. This is a hand turned wand made from locally sourced cherry wood that I seasoned and milled myself. There is going to be a crystal point embedded into the tip (where the hole is), but other than that, it is done. I was a little surprised that the piece came together with little difficulty. This is probably the first time I have touched my lathe in three years. It isn't perfect, but considering how out of practice I am, it's pretty good.

        I love this batch of wood. The color is very pleasing. Even the sapwood is nice. I've got quite a bit of it, so I expect I'll be doing a lot of projects in cherry in the future. Now that the store is closed, I'm going to have to focus more on online sales in order to have any income. My needs are small, but I've been bleeding money for the past two years, so it's either make internet sales, or get a straight job, and I'm a little too old and jaded for that! 

        I have a couple more wands that I started years ago, and got them to about this same point and never finished them. I think I'll try to make a couple more, and then add the tips to all of them at once and post them in a batch. I was just so excited to have accomplished something in the workshop that I had to post it, finished or not. 

 P.S. I'm not dead yet. 

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Rogue Cthulhu Dice Box

 Just a few months before COVID shut down all gaming conventions all over the world, I regained control of Rogue Cthulhu, the gaming club I co-founded over 20 years ago. In those few months between Thanksgiving 2019 and when the world shut down in March 2020, I was hard at work trying to prepare for the next Rogue Cthulhu show at the Origins Gaming Convention. One of my areas of focus was to re-establish the prize table and point system that had been dismantled while I was away from the helm. 

This is one of the prizes that I was working on at that time. Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures of its construction. It's a portable dice rolling box, with a side area for storing and transporting your gaming dice. The lid slides open like a pencil box top. The sides of the box are oak. The top and divider are sapele. The bottom is lined with bonded leather. The sides and top are all laser etched. 

I'm not sure if or when Rogue Cthulhu might return to the gaming convention scene, but if it does, I will probably make more of these. I initially only made two, and since the future of the club is currently uncertain, I think I'm going to give these two away to some friends.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Memento Mori

 So, 2020 happened. That was a thing. As I'm sure it was for all of us, it was a particularly hard year for me. At the end of March, just before COVID-19 took over all of our lives, my mother passed away unexpectedly. There is some confusion about how exactly she passed, and I'm not convinced that COVID did not play a part, but testing was not being done at that time. She went into the hospital to get treated for rhabdomyolysis. She had been complaining of muscle pain and weakness in her legs for weeks and my daughter, who is a pharmacy student, discovered that she was taking two different statins (something you should never do). Mom went to the ER and it was confirmed that she had statin induced rhabdo. She spent several weeks in the hospital being treated, and was on the mend. I visited with her every day back then, and we could see the COVID hysteria ramping up around us. At that time, there was only one confirmed COVID patient in our city (and not in our hospital). After her treatment concluded, she was transferred to an off-site facility to complete her recovery and to begin physical therapy. The critical part should have been over at that point. When she was moved to the physical rehabilitation facility, COVID had become the hot topic of every day. The shut-down was beginning in our area. I was not allowed to visit her while she was in the new facility. She wasn't allowed to have visitors at all. She would remain there for several weeks, and we would communicate by phone or text. I would never see her alive again. 

Things seemed to be improving. She could get to the bathroom by herself now. Then, she called me one night out of the blue saying that she thought she was dying. Something was wrong. Her blood oxygen level was very low. She made some very bizarre remarks that made it seem like she might be having a psychotic episode. The doctors at the facility did not seem alarmed, and did not provide much information about her condition, nor did they seem to take the situation very seriously. The next morning they did decide to send her back to the ER. She barely made it through the doors of the Emergency Room before she coded. They could not resuscitate her. 

She was not allowed to have calling hours because of COVID. We have a large close knit family, and I had to chose a maximum of ten people to be at her graveside for the funeral.

My mother's passing is the primary reason that I have done almost nothing in the past year. I have been completely overwhelmed with her death, funeral, and estate. It is almost a year later, and I haven't really begun to grieve. 

But wait, there's more...

Due to COVID lock-down, my store was closed through most of the Winter and Spring. We did finally re-open again in June (three months later than we would have). My store clerk, Toni, has health problems of her own. She is the same age as my mom, and can barely walk from her car to the front door without resting. Her doctor didn't want her working at all in June, but she was eager to get back to work for financial reasons. So we started out only opening on weekends, and putting reasonably strict COVID prevention measures in place. No more than 4 people in the shop at a time, no children, masks required, frequent surface and hand sanitization. Despite the very late start, and the economy being in the tank, we actually had a pretty good year, financially. 

Then, in very early December, Toni got sick. Now, it's common for her to get bronchitis once or twice (or thrice) a year, especially when the weather turns cold, so we all hoped for the best, but there was always that fear looming over my shoulder that it could be something much worse. She spent a couple of weeks at home, but her condition did not improve. I told her she should go to the hospital, and that I wasn't going to let her come back to work without a negative COVID test. She dickered around for a few days, and then she finally went in to get tested. She was positive for COVID.

I held out hope, but all of her friends suspected that it was going to end badly. Toni stayed in the hospital for a couple of weeks. I took care of her cats while she was away. Then I got the DM from Toni's daughter that she had been called by the doctors to come up to the hospital (she lives in another state). Toni died just minutes before her daughter arrived in the room. It was the day after Winter Solstice. The shortest day of the longest year of my life.

Toni was like a second mother to me. I had known her since I was six years old. She ran my shop for me for the past ten or so years. Her daughter and I grew up together. To say that I feel more alone now than I have ever felt in my life is an understatement.

Which brings me to the subject of this post. Unlike my mother, who would have absolutely hated the fact that she couldn't have her family at her funeral, Toni was a very private person who didn't want anyone to know she was sick. She didn't want a funeral, or an obituary, or a memorial service. Her daughter had her remains cremated and plans to bury the ashes in secret in a place her mother would have liked. The only remembrance she will get is the small memorial table I have set up for her at the shop, for which I created this memorial book that friends and patrons can use to leave her a final farewell. It is one of the only things I have made in the past year.

The book itself was just a fake moleskin covered blank journal I found at a discount store. The images are ones she would have liked, gleaned from the internet. I etched the covers with my laser cutter. 

Memento Mori is a Latin phrase that means- "Remenber, that someday you too will die." Since my mother's passing almost a year ago, I have thought about little else.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Key Fobs v1.0

I recently returned to the leadership position of my old gaming club, Rogue Cthulhu and due to changes in policy during the four years I was away, our once vaunted prize table now has to be rebuilt from scratch. So, first I made a list of reasonably simple and inexpensive craft items I could make to begin rebuilding our stock of prizes. We often get gifts of larger prizes, like RPG books, as prize support from publishers connected to the games we run, so what we mostly need is smaller prizes that work with our point chip system.

The first such project that I thought of was a line of laser engraved wooden key fobs with various Cthulhu Mythos related images on one side and the Rogue Cthulhu logo on the other. I mean, after all, what good is having a laser cutter if you can't use it to make prizes!

The design for the fobs was fairly simple and laid out in Inkscape. Then they were cut and engraved, double sided, on the Glowforge laser cutter out of 3mm birch plywood. I made about 60 of these in total. About half were left their natural color, while the rest were stained with varying hues of wood stain. All were sealed with a clear gloss top coat.

The metal split rings came from Michaels. The split rings were attached to the fobs with a 15mm x 75mm strip of bonded leather. Some are black and some are brown. I got the bonded leather in large rolls off of eBay some years ago. The strips were glued into a loop connecting the fob and the ring, using Barge cement, and then a nickle finish double cap rivet was used to cinch the loop.

The engraving and cutting took about 45 minutes per side for each batch of 20. The staining and top coating probably took about an hour total. Cutting, gluing and riveting the bonded leather loops probably took about an hour and a half to do all sixty fobs.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Planchettes v1.6

I have made about five batches of planchettes since I first posted about them. This post is about batch #3, i.e. version 1.6. I'll try to keep it brief, because I just finished batch #4, i.e. version 2.0. 

Version 1.6 was just like version 1.5, except they had laser engravings on the top surface. It was a medium sized batch of about 17 units. All were made from hardwood, though some were made from planks that I planed down to thickness, and some were made from thin (1/8") stock I usually use in my laser. The laser stock ones were too thin to put a glass oculus into, so only the ones I planed got that. The woods used were red oak (laser stock), spalted buckeye, and hickory.  I didn't take many pictures of the production process, as most of it happened on the laser. Below are the planchettes hanging on a rack drying after being coated with either Danish oil or Tung oil finish. I can't remember which.

 I did learn a few things from this experimental batch.
First, although the laser stock wood will cut all the way through on the laser, it is really a little too thin to make a nice planchette, and definitely too thin to inset a glass oculus. The planed down boards on the other hand are a good thickness for drilling and insetting the glass, but even though they are technically under the maximum thickness for the laser, they are really too thick to cut through all the way by that method. In the future, I will likely just score the outer outline on the laser and do the rough cutting on the band saw and sand up to the line on the disk sander, like v1.0 and v1.5.

Second, due to possible alignment error when drilling out the center hole, I should mark the center of the hole with the laser by scoring a cross-hair, but NOT score the actual circle to be cut out. Any misalignment of the drill bit can cause the score line to be visible even after the hold is drilled.

Third, when using thin stock, orient the grain of the wood with the long axis of the planchette, or at a diagonal. Doing otherwise will create a weak point at the sides of the center hole, where the body is very narrow. 

Here they are again, waiting for the next coat of finish.

This batch with the laser engraving was very popular both on my Etsy store and in my brick and mortar shop. All of my offerings in my Etsy shop are sold out and I only have two left in the brick and mortar store. You can mostly make out all of the designs in the picture above, but I only took glamor shots of the ones that were going to be sold online. So, here they are-

This was a smallish batch that was finished fairly quickly. It only took a couple of days from start to finish. Its main purpose was to test the idea of cutting out planchettes on the laser, and for engraving the tops with designs.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Walnut and Maple Mitered Boxes with Poplar Interior v1.0

I've been itching to make some more boxes. I really liked the way my pencil top boxes with ebony splines came out. With the exception of the lids. Those were hard to fit properly. They ended up being a little too sloppy for my liking. So, I decided to try a different style of lid.

I also wanted to use some of the thin hardwood boards that I bought for my laser, because, well, they didn't need planed to thickness and because I had a large collection of them that was getting a bit out of hand. However, the thin boards were not thick enough to cut a rabbet or a dado into, so the top and bottom would need another way to attach. I always wanted to try the kind of box that has a second layer of wood that lines the interior, so that's what I went for. Usually those kinds of boxes have the interior panels stick up above the rim and the lid fits down over the lip created by the interior wall. This is how you make boxes that start off closed on the top and bottom, then you cut through the side to separate the top from the rest of the box. These boxes would not be like that. Instead, the interior wall would be shorter than the exterior sides of the box, and allow the bottom of the lid to set down inside. You'll see what I mean.

Walnut is my favorite wood (one of), so that's what I wanted to make the sides from. Walnut boards for my laser cost about $2 each, and poplar boards cost less than $1 each, so I decided to make the interior walls, the lid bottom, and box bottom out of poplar.

I cut side pieces from walnut, about 2.5" tall and 4.5" long. I cut enough to make five boxes. I planned to use box joints for the outer walls, and then precisely fitted butt joints on the interior walls. Unfortunately, I ran into a little trouble with my box joint jig. It didn't want to cooperate. And though I had made box joint boxes with this jig before, today it was not happening. I ruined the ends of two (luckily only two) of the walnut boards before quitting in disgust and ordering an INCRA I-Box jig on Amazon. But that was going to take a week to arrive, and I didn't want to wait that long, so the next day I went back into the workshop and tried something else.

I decided to miter the corners, like I did with the pencil top box. But because these boards were much thinner, I was going to need a more delicate method of mitering the edges than the table saw. I was going to need a hand plane shooting board with a 45 degree "donkey-ear" attachment. 

Unfortunately, do to the aggravating previous day, I wasn't in much of a mood to take pictures during the creation of the shooting board or the "donkey-ear". And frankly, it came together very fast and there isn't much too it. Suffice to say, it turned out rather well and seems to work pretty good. Might need some tweaking to make it more square, but it was good enough. Now I could use a hand plane to put very precise 45 degree miters on the ends of all the walnut boards.

I lined up the boards end to end, outer faces facing up, and made sure they were square against a straight edge. Then I put masking tape at each of the joints. The masking tape will serve as a clamp to hold all the sides tightly in place as the glue dries.

Then I flipped the boards over, exposing the mitered edges, and applied glue.

Once the glue was applied, I folded up the sides and stuck another piece of tape on the last edge to hold it in a box shape. I made a quick jig out of some scrap wood to hold the box sides square while the glue dried. My jig could hold two boxes square at a time. They only needed to be in it until the glue started to set up.

Next, I cut pieces of poplar to serve as the bottom of the box and for the interior walls of the box. I dialed in the size of each piece using the shooting board. But this time, I didn't use the "donkey-ear". The interior pieces have 90 degree flat ends and are fitted tightly in place with a butt joint.

The poplar interior walls are shorter than the exterior walls to create a rabbet on the bottom edge for the bottom panel, and a slightly larger rabbet at the top edge to accommodate the lid. After being dry fitted, I glued the interior walls to the walnut sides, and also put glue along the ends of the poplar boards to butt joint them together. This will reinforce the miter joint of the thin walnut exterior walls, since they won't be reinforced with splines.

The very first box I made got the bottom panel glued in at the same time as the sides, but I quickly realized this was a mistake. If I leave the bottom panel until last, it will be easier to position the interior lid panel when gluing it to the lid. Making sure that the lid fits on properly is very important to this design. So for the other boxes, I just used scrap pieces of poplar as spacers when gluing in the interior walls. The bottom would be added later.

The lids I cut out of maple, the same thickness as the other boards (approx. 0.180" thick). But these I cut out on the laser, and added a different design to each one. On some of them, I gave a quick coat of spray paint before I took off the masking tape from the laser process. This gave a nice dark color to the burned areas.

I made the lids just very slightly larger than the box perimeter. I figured it would be hard to get everything to fit perfectly, and a slight overhang (less than a millimeter) would be preferable to being undersized.

Oh. BTW, one of the boxes came out rectangular instead of square, because I decided to use the two boards that I had messed up with the box joint jig. I just cut off the bad end and mitered them a little shorter. No big deal. If I hadn't, I would have not only wasted the two messed up boards, but the other two sides as well, because I had the perfect number of cut pieces to make five boxes.

I cut poplar pieces for the lid interior, pretty much the exact same size as the box bottom, and dialed in the best fit I could with the shooting board (at 90 degrees). Then I used the box to help me line up the interior lid panel on the underside of the lid to get the best fit. I glued the poplar panel to the underside of the maple lid and held it down with weights. This was a mistake. It needed stronger and more even clamping pressure. Some of the panels started to curl as the glue dried. I fixed this by adding more glue to the widening joint at the edges and clamping all around with spring clamps.

I sanded all the exterior sides, with the random orbital sander, to 220 grit. The box bottoms needed more attention, as some of them were a little proud of the box sides and needed to be sanded flush. Then I put the first coat of finish on them; 1/3 BLO, 1/3 Poly (oil based), 1/3 mineral spirits. I let this soak in for about 15 minutes and then wiped off the excess. After letting them dry for 24 hours, I came back and sanded the sides lightly with a 220 sanding sponge.

I like the look of an oil rub finish, but there is a trap you can fall into. I call it the "2 coats or 10" trap. Your first two coats of an oil finish (like BLO or tung oil) will completely soak in and give you a matte oil finish. But if you want something with more gloss, you have to do more coats. Well, the next few coats will start to build up a more satin or gloss finish, but it will be patchy, because the wood absorbs the oil more in some areas. To get enough build up on the entire surface with no patchiness, you end up doing ten or more coats and waiting a day between each. That's a lot of tedious finishing time.

This time, I wanted to avoid that trap, but I still wanted more gloss than one or two oil coats can give. So, for the second coat, I tried a new finish that is popular with guitar and gun stock makers. It's called Tru-Oil. You just coat the surface and rub it in until it is all evenly coated and mostly absorbed, and let it dry for 24 hours. Re-coat as desired. It is an oil finish, that also builds up a varnish film finish as you apply coats. One coat of my BLO mixture and one coat of Tru-Oil gave me a satin finish that was not patchy. It could have probably benefited from another coat of Tru-Oil, but this looked good enough. I didn't put the Tru-Oil on the interior of the box. The BLO treatment would be good enough for that.

While I was waiting for the finish to dry, I decided to make a little card detailing when the item was made and from what materials. Sometimes I forget what kinds of wood I used on which projects, and it is always helpful when selling an item to be able to tell the customer what woods were used. So, I made a little card that will stay with the box, and remind the customer as well. I am going to try to do something like this to all my projects in the future.

I added my logo to the bottom of the box. I have a sheet of them printed out that I stained with tea some time ago. When I need one I use the water tearing technique to separate one from the sheet and glue it to the item with pva glue.

Lastly, I put some self adhesive cork pads on the bottom corners to serve as feet, in case the bottom of the box isn't perfectly flat.

And now, some glamour shots.