Friday, February 24, 2017

Mother's Little Helper

My mother is getting older, and she has diabetic neuropathy, and very little strength in her hands. I keep telling her to buy 2-liter bottles of soda instead of cans, because they are cheaper. She keeps saying that she has trouble opening them, and when she can get them open, she can't close them tight enough to keep them from going flat.

I've seen bottle grippers (and she has a few) that could help with opening and closing them, but they have their problems too. Depending on the design, they might also require some grip strength, and regardless of design, they would require her to dig out a tool whenever she wanted to open or close the bottle. People are lazy. They would rather just buy cans.

The other day, we were having this discussion for about the umpteen-millionth time, and it dawned on me that what she really needed was a better cap for the bottle. One that would be easy for her to open and close.

I took the cap from an empty 2-liter bottle of soda and embedded it in an "ergonomically" shaped chunk of polyurethane plastic. Now, she can just remove the original cap when she opens a new bottle, and replace it with this "grip cap" and leave it on there until the bottle is empty. Give the cap a rinse when the bottle is empty, and it's ready for use on the next bottle.

The initial prototype took me about 20 minutes to make. I didn't document its creation, because it was just a proof of concept prototype, but you can see it above. It is an organic shape with knobbly edges about three inches in diameter. It was made with a very quickly hand sculpted mold made from sulfur-free modeling clay, into which I poured polyurethane resin.

After the prototype was finished, I decided to refine the shape a bit, and so I made a wooden puck by drilling out six holes in a circle in a piece of 1-by lumber and then cutting out the circle with a jigsaw. I gave the puck a coat of gloss spray paint to help it not stick to the clay when making the mold.

I then flattened out some sulfur-free modeling clay (sulfur can inhibit the curing process of silicone rubber, so I only buy sulfur free plasticine-type modeling clay; hear after referred to as "clay"). Then I mold the clay around the puck, after spraying it with some silicone mold release spray. I put the clay just around the bottom and sides. The top face is left open. Then I pull the puck out the the clay, leaving the shape intact.

 To prevent resin from dripping into the cap, I mask off the underside of a used 2-liter bottle cap from my plastic parts bin. Then I stick it, bottom side up, in the center of the clay mold. Make sure you do NOT spray mold release on the cap. You want the resin to bond with the plastic cap, just not to the clay mold.

I mix up some polyurethane resin. Here, I'm using Smooth-On's Smooth-Cast Onyx, because it's what I had on hand. It's a 1 to 1 by volume mix ration of part A and part B. When it cures, it comes out glossy black. Sometimes I add a little talc powder to the mix as a filler. This resin has about a two minute work time, and can be demolded after about fifteen minutes.

I pour the resin around the cap, up to the rim. I want the finished piece to be big and chunky, and easy to manipulate with fiddly fingers- like a baby toy. 

Once the resin sets, I peel off the clay mold. I do it carefully, so I can just re-use the mold a second time without having to reshape it around the puck. Remove the masking tape, knock down any sharp corners with some rough sand paper, and give it a wash, and it's ready to go!

 I made a total of three of these, the prototype and these two from the wooden puck. That should be plenty for now. I still need to see if the resin will bond well to the plastic cap. Some plastics don't want to stick to anything. But so far they seem fine. Mom seems to like them. She says she doesn't have any problem gripping them or twisting them, and she even thinks they look cool on the soda bottle. :)

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Carbide Turning Tools

There is a big schism in the wood turning world over the use of carbide turning tools and traditional High Speed Steel tools. Some people use both, but most seem to lean towards one or the other, and it ends up being one of those 'CD vs. Vinyl' sort of arguments between the 'old school' and the 'new hottness'.  My main turning tools are the mid-level set of HSS from Harbor Freight, which is to say they are about the worst tools that you can actually call 'usable'. That was the set that I started with when I bought my lathe. Since then, I've added a couple of Benjamin's Best brand gouges which are, by most accounts, at the lower end of  'half decent'. Basically, the next step up. These are all High Speed Steel traditional turning tools (gouges, chisels and scrapers). But I kept hearing about these new carbide tipped tools that never need sharpening and by some accounts are suppose to be very easy to use. They are, however, expensive. The carbide tools start at about $65 and easily go over $100, each. The tools I buy now are closer to $20 each.

But the carbide tipped ones are basically a tool handle with a steel shaft and a replaceable carbide cutter that attaches to the tip with a screw. I can make a tool handle. A piece of 1/2" square bar stock will serve as a shaft. All I really need is the replaceable cutter which, as luck would have it, sells for about $20.

I turned the handle out of soft maple. I drilled the end out to accept a piece of square bar stock, which I epoxied into the handle. I used small pieces of copper pipe as ferrules.  Most people who make their own handles for these, cut a recess in the tip of the bar stock, so that the top of the cutter sits flush with the top of the shaft. I don't see the necessity in that. I just set my cutter on top of the bar stock. I drilled and tapped a hole through the top of the shaft near the tip. Then I marked the outline of the cutter, so that I could remove any excess material from around and under the cutter's edge.
I got three different tips; a round one, a square one, and a pointed (diamond) one. There are other shapes, but these are the basic ones. The tip of the shaft has to be rounded on the underside so that the bar stock doesn't get in the way when it is up against the work piece on the lathe. And some of the material at the tip has to be ground down to let the cutter's edge protrude past the edge of the bar stock. Once the cutter was attached to the shaft with the screw, I also put some CA glue around the back edge of the cutter to help hold it to the shaft without twisting or moving at all, and to prevent the screw from working its way lose from vibration. If I ever need to remove the cutter, I'm sure I can break the CA bond without much difficulty.

That's really all there is to it. Turn handle, insert shaft, add ferrule, drill and tap, shape tip, attach cutter. Done.

Having used them a few times, I'm not really all that impressed with them. I won't count them out just yet, but so far I like using traditional gouges better than the carbide tools. I guess I'm just Old School.

Saturday, February 11, 2017


I love turning recycled, otherwise junk, wood into nice or useful objects. Plus, I'm cheap, so I don't like paying money for supplies. I have an add up on Craigslist soliciting for scrap wood for turning.

My buddy, Carl, brought me over a few pieces of old barn wood a few weeks back. He lives in a rural area, and like most rural dwelling people, has a bunch of old crap sitting under a rotting car-port that he wants to clear out, including some old wooden beams. All he asked for in return was that I make him a baseball bat on my lathe.

While he was there and we were talking, I chopped a piece off of one of the beams and chucked it up on my ShopSmith. I had recently purchased the pieces I needed to start using it as a lathe. I turned as we talked. He was fascinated watching the shavings come flying off. He was amazed at how fast a chunk of old wood could be turned into something recognizable. He said that if he could afford one, he would get himself a ShopSmith. I think he would enjoy wood turning. I've heard a lot of people describe it as addictive.

I did a bit of a hack job on it, partly because he had somewhere else to be, and my ShopSmith still needed some fine tuning. I was also limited on the length of item I could turn, so it is a little short and a little chubby. I joked that it reminded me of Bam-Bam's club (from the Flintstones cartoon). Also, the wood was kind of shit. It was soft and had cracks in it. Not really suitable for a proper baseball bat. But he loved it anyway. It only took me about a half hour to make, maybe a little more.

Here you can see it next to the rest of the post that it came from.

Carl was in a hurry, so I just gave it a real quick sanding on the lathe and one coat of Shine Juice (boiled linseed oil, denatured alcohol, and shellac), and off he went.

Shortly after this, I made some of the improvments that will help with using the ShopSmith as a lathe. I replaced a few of the set screws on the tool rest with wooden handles.

I turned a scrap piece of Douglas Fur into a handle and found a bolt that would fit in the hole to replace the set screw. Then I embedded the screw into the wooden handle and used a piece of scrap metal tubing as a ferrule. These handles were made very quickly and with no frills, but they make an immense difference when it comes to the ease of using the ShopSmith's tool rest.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Too Quiet

It's quiet in here. Too quiet. Page views are down. New comments are almost non-existent, and there hasn't been a new follower added in over a year. If it weren't for two prominent links (from Propnomicon and Eric Hart), and more recently the popularity of Pinterest, I don't think I would be getting any traffic here at all. I know that the inconsistency and recent dearth of new posts has hurt me in that regard (and I have an explanation for that, if you care to read this post to the end). I also realize that what little material I have been publishing lately has been of a nature that is not really in line with what brought most people to this blog in the first place.

But, I've also been getting the feeling lately that Blogger may be a dying platform. With the exception of Propnomicon, who's tireless dedication to publishing is an inspiration and an invaluable resource to the Mythos and prop making communities- the extent to which can not be over stated, most of the blogs that I used to follow are dying off. Many have slowed their publishing schedule, quite a few have migrated to other websites or other media, and a lot have just vanished. I, myself, find that I now spend a lot less time reading blogs and a lot more time watching YouTube videos.

Which brings me to me second point- YouTube videos. Lately I've been feeling the urge to branch out into new media. Maybe it's just that I'm a little bored with blogs, or that I'm disheartened by the falling numbers. Or maybe I just want to do what the "cool kids" are doing. But it looks like YouTube is going strong, where Blogger and even Instructables are flagging. I don't even know if I will like making videos. It will obviously be a lot more work than posting to a blog. And I don't really relish the idea of appearing on camera. But the draw of being a part of that thriving community is so enticing. So, I'm curious. What do any of you think? I invite everyone who reads this to weigh in on the topic in the comments. It would be nice to get some feedback.

YouTube is really the only other outlet, at the moment, that appeals to me. I have a number of issues with Facebook. I absolutely despise Twitter. I don't really see the appeal of Snapchat, or Instagram. Deviant Art, and the various php forums (with the exception of the RPF) seem to be past their prime. Pinterest is kind of "meh", but has some value. I'll admit that I am a bit of a curmudgeon, and I don't adapt to new technology very quickly, and usually only begrudgingly. I refuse to chase trends, and most of these types of services are ephemeral. YouTube has at least been around for a while, and doesn't look like it is going anywhere anytime soon. But I'd also like to hear your feedback on these other media. If you think I've overlooked something, or have underrated something, let me know in the comments.

To be clear, I'm not chasing traffic. Well, not just for the sake of having traffic, anyway. I don't want to switch to YouTube just to get more views, but I also don't want to be the last guy updating his MySpace page all alone either. Which brings me to my third point- what is this all for and why did I start it in the first place. Well, I started out by wanting to post some pictures of some of the things I had made. I had made quite a few cool little props items and thought that it would be a good idea to keep some kind of a portfolio of my work. I started by just posting a few pictures on a static page that was attached to the Rogue Cthulhu web page. Within a year, that started to feel a bit inadequate. I wanted to give more commentary on the items, what they were, why I made them, etc. Then I stumbled upon Blogger.  It seemed like it had some legs under it. I would be able to post my pictures, and write a little bit about each piece, without having to write html code. It was convenient and seemed more robust of a format than what I was already doing. It was only ever meant to be a place to catalog pictures of my creations. In retrospect, a Flickr account probably would have done the trick. I never really expected anyone to look at it besides myself.

But I can remember the rush that I got the first time I saw one of my blog posts copied on another site. It was either Propnomicon, or Old Fool (whom I believe has since passed away- RIP, brother), I can't remember now which was first. I had just posted an image of one of my prop tomes the night before. Then, I was flipping through some blogs I had begun reading and I saw my tome- and I froze. I was stunned, and confused for a moment. I was pretty sure that I was not on my blog page, but there was the picture I had just posted. I literally had to take a moment to figure out what was happening. Was I on the right webpage? Why was I seeing a picture of my prop on this blog? It honestly took several moments before it even dawned on me that someone had seen my blog and reposted one of my images. Then after the initial confusion, came a deep satisfaction and the joy that comes from knowing that someone recognized something you did as having worth. I was hooked.

Then, after a short while, largely due to the nature of the format, I started writing more and more about each piece, and I started taking more than just snap shots of the finished pieces. I started taking a lot of picture of the building process. I honestly started doing it for my own reference. It's good to chronicle the creation process so that you can learn from it or recreate it later on. My blog posts became more tutorial in nature, and that really seemed to appeal to people. And I enjoyed writing about the creation process too.

Point four- content. I never tried to pander to the audience. I don't post (when I do post) for the traffic. But there is certainly an undeniable surge of pride and a feeling of purpose and self esteem one gets when one receives positive feedback. I have a lot of different things that interest me, and my focus wanders from one field of interest to another. I know that the people who came here for the bookbinding tutorials may not necessarily be interested in the Mythos props, and the Steampunk fans are probably not terribly interested in the Pagan crafts. The woodworking projects probably have little appeal to any of those crowds, and nobody gives a flying fuck about my DIY shop furniture or the metal fabrication I did at my old job. If you came to this blog for one type of thing, and I'm not posting about that currently, all I can say is, stick around. I will probably come back to it one day.

And that brings me to my final point- consistency. Anyone who has followed this blog will note that in addition to content theme variation, there has been wide fluctuation in the publishing schedule of that content. The public likes consistency. Regular and frequent updates to content- grist for the mill, as it were. But anyone who runs a blog anything like this one, also knows that production schedules do not always mesh well with an ideal publishing schedule. But that's only part of the story...

Ok, if you're still reading this, it means that you are either extremely bored or you have an interest in the affairs of people, whom you don't know, akin to an avid 'Reality TV' viewer. So, now I'm going to lay some very personal crap out there- which is something I have never really done here, and likely won't do again. So, if baggage isn't your cup of tea, fare thee well, and tune in for the next post, which will be more akin to my regular posts. I have a few cool projects that I am finishing up.

      ------------------------------((...bail out now. you have been warned...))-------------------------------

So, when this blog first started in 2009, I had a back catalog of projects that needed to be uploaded. Plus, I had recently been laid off from my job in private security, so I had time to write blog posts- 67 of them that first year. For the next two years I remained unemployed (which is to say, I didn't have a second job, in addition to running my store), so I had lots of time to create in my workshop, as well as time to post updates, though as the back catalog was exhausted, things did slow down.

Then, I got another second full time job, and my free time dropped to almost zero- and so did my posts to this blog. For about four years, in addition to running my store, I worked at a soul crushing, physically brutal, relentlessly exhausting job that crippled my hands for the first several months, and  took up about 70 hours a week of my time. I couldn't make anything at all in my workshop for a lot of that time, and I was usually too tired to blog about it if I did.

Then, in 2015, my father passed. He had been very sick for about a year, and then he finally succumbed to cancer. My father and I never really got along well, so as cold as it sounds, I didn't really think his passing would hurt terribly much. Sure, I would miss him, and mourn his loss to some extent, but we didn't really have much of a relationship. Plus, anyone who knows me knows that I'm emotionally distant where most personal relationships are concerned. Even still, his passing has affected my life in ways I had not imagined. And since his passing, I have come to realize that he and I were more alike than I care to admit. Maybe that's why we didn't get along.

*As to why I am known to be emotionally distant, that stems from having my heart broken about 25 years ago. It was my fault. I was young and immature. I took her for granted. I failed her on multiple occasions, and I even cheated. I did love her, but I understand now that I treated her poorly (though I never intended to and didn't realize it at the time). She deserved better, and when she finally figured that out, she left me for another man. I was devastated by her leaving. I had an emotional breakdown, got suicidal, and then curled up into a ball for the next 20 odd years. Broken. Everything I have done since then (with the exception of my daughter, whom I love)- my store, my crafts, my jobs, my few friends, my gaming club, this blog, all of it- has just been me killing time, looking for distractions, waiting to die.

Back to the present. Shortly after my father passed, my work situation became intolerable, and so I quit. Still, even though quitting my job freed up some time, my father's passing still had things pretty chaotic, and there was a lot of family stuff to deal with in his wake. So, still not much crafting or blogging getting done.

Then, just as I was getting bored with being alone, and thinking that I had wasted my life feeling sorry for myself, and wondering why life never gave me a second chance, and thinking that the scars over my heart had finally healed enough that I could love somebody again, but begrudgingly accepting that I probably never would- then, the impossible happened.

In the past 25 years, since my heart was broken, exactly three women have caught my attention. I'm not saying that I have never found anyone else attractive- I'm saying only three times in that period have I looked at someone and my heart stood up and pointed at them and said "That one. I want that one". I never said anything to any of them. Partly because they were all married, but mostly because I am a coward with almost no social skills. Two of them moved away shortly after we met. The third, I saw only briefly each year at a convention. For ten years I watched her, longingly- careful never to let on that I harbored feelings for her, for fear that she would react negatively and I would never see her again. All the while, my infatuation and attraction to her growing to distracting levels.

In October of 2015, just a few months after my father had passed away and I quit my job, she and I were both at a party, and one of my friends let slip to her that I had feelings for her. She was just drunk enough to not find this revelation revolting. And I was just drunk enough to not screw it up too badly when she confronted me about it (which is to say, we were both completely hammered). It's worth noting at this point, that she is in an 'open marriage', so at least from her perspective, her being married was not an impediment.

For the next few months, we dated- and I was deliriously happy. For the first time in 25 years, I felt joy. I felt purpose. I felt powerful. I felt love. I wanted to start living again. I wasn't just killing time anymore. I was ready to reinvent myself. Eager to start over. Regretful of the time I had wasted. Of course, no crafting or blogging, or much of anything else got done during this period, as I was understandably very distracted. All of my attention was focused on this new love in my life- and therein lay the tragic flaw.

 Without delving into excruciating detail of the roller coaster that ensued, it will suffice to say that there was no happily-ever-after. Not for me, anyway. Misrepresentations were made. Expectations were misconstrued. Missteps were taken. Promises went unfulfilled. Emotions rose and fell. Things ended- abruptly.
In the end, my hart was broken once again. My emotional cataclysm, which followed in the aftermath of this brief and ill-fated romance, took me right back to where I was 25 years ago; despondency, dejection, heartache, confusion, crippling depression, misery, tears, suicidal ideation. To say that I was invested would be the understatement of the decade. She, however, was not.  For her, it was just another in a long list of extramarital dalliances; shorter than most, easily dismissed, and quickly forgotten. For me, it was the death of hope.
It has been just over a year now since it ended. Though she has said that everything is cool between us, it isn't. We don't talk at all anymore. She has distanced herself from me in the few social circles where our lives once crossed, and it is likely that I will never see or speak to her again. Last year's convention was so unbearable, I doubt I will ever go back. As a result of my being broken again, all of my other friendships have ended as well. Some of those friendships ended with bad blood. Some of them just ended. I am no longer even a member of the gaming club that I founded and lead for 16 years. Now that a year has passed, I'm just starting to be able to function again. That's why there have been very few recent projects or posts, even though I currently have plenty of time on my hands.

 As I said, I don't make a habit of dumping my purse out on the couch like this, and you won't see me do it again- at least not here. The Old Man has a secret blog for that ;) But it goes to my fifth point, concerning consistency. At first, I had plenty of time for projects and blogging, then no time, then father died, then quit job, then too much happiness, then too much sadness, now broken- again. I'd like to say that the consistency will start to improve now that I am semi-functional, but frankly I don't really know from one day to the next whether or not I will want to continue living, let alone continue making or blogging. I can only take one day at a time. But now, at least I can say most days are a little less awful than the previous one.  ...Most days.


So, feel free to comment. I'm curious to see if anyone is still reading this blog, or if all my current traffic numbers are just from google image searches and spam bots. Let me know what you think about the new woodworking stuff, or your thoughts on making YouTube videos. Anything really. Just looking for a little feedback.

Until next time...