Friday, June 22, 2018

Wooden Book Cover v1.0

At times, I suffer from insomnia. I can lay in bed, failing to sleep, for eight hours or more. Recently, during one of these bouts, my mind would not stop fixating on a new woodworking project. A wood covered book. So, the next day, I started working on a prototype. I wasn't 100% sure of all the details, so I used scrap pine as the material in case things didn't work out the way I had planned.

I started with a reclaimed pine 2x6. I planned to use 8.5"x11" paper folded into signatures for the text block, so I cut the board into 10" sections. I will cut it to final size (9 inches) after it is cleaned up a bit. One section got cut into 3/4" wide strips. These will become the spines. I am working on several copies at once.

The other section had to be re-sawed into thinner planks for the covers. These cover boards had to take many trips through the planer to get them flat and smooth and planed down to the proper thickness. With the spine being 1.5" thick, 3/8" thick covers would leave me a good amount of space for the text block. I had to cut another 2x6 to make enough cover boards to make three books.

Then the spines got ran through the planer to square them up and get the paint off. Once that was done, it was time to cut the channel where the text block would sit. For this, I got to use my dado stack for the first time!

A 1.5" wide spine, minus a 3/8" cover on each side, leaves a 3/4" channel in the middle for the text block. The trick to making perfectly centered dados, is to make your stack a little smaller than the width of the dado you need. Then set your fence for the gap you want on each side, and run the wood through twice. The first pass establishes the gap on the fence side, then flip the wood around and run it through again going the other direction. This will set the dame distance for the gap on the other side. That probably doesn't explain it very well, but hopefully you will get what I mean from the pictures.

In the midst of planing, one of the cover boards cracked because it had the pith running through it.  The pith is usually very weak, and should be avoided whenever possible. To salvage the board, I used super glue (cyanoacrylate) to repair the crack and strengthen the pith. While I was at it, I decided to put CA glue on all the other knots, cracks and other imperfections. In hindsight, I should have saved this step until later. Having the CA glue on the wood now means I can't use stain.

 Once the CA Glue was dry, it was all sanded smooth. Then I dug out the old router table and a round over bit to round over the edges of the boards so that the books would be nicer to handle. The only edges that did not get rounded over were the ones where the boards would meet up at the hinge.

 Now, it's time for decoration, so onto the new laser cutter! I used Inkscape to lay out the design, and burned it into the wood pieces with my Glowforge laser cutter/engraver. Although it was a big investment (about $2000) and a long wait for shipping (about 2 years!), I am glad I bought the laser. It has really opened up a lot of new possibilities for my work. I have no doubt I will outgrow this model eventually, but when that happens, now that I know what it can do for me, I wouldn't hesitate to invest in another machine (about $4k for the next step up).

 Once all the pieces were laser engraved, it was time to apply finish to the pieces before final assembly. I started with a coat of shellac, then several coats of tung oil. Tung oil gives a beautiful finish, but it is a pain to apply. Flood the surface; wait 15 minutes. If the surface soaks up the oil, reapply. When 15 minutes is up, wipe off the excess oil. Then wait 24 hours to dry. Sand lightly, then do it all again. Repeat 3-4 times. Oh, and don't work on anything else in your shop while the finish is drying, or you will get sawdust in the finish! I hate the finishing process. I'm very impatient.

Now that the covers have finish applied, it is time to start on the pages. A while back, I got a really good deal on some parchment style card stock and thought that it would make great fill pages for blank journals. So, I cracked open a pack of it and started folding the pages in half with a bone folder.

A bone folder is one of those odd tools that seems so simple as to be unnecessary. Lots of people forgo buying a bone folder, instead using something like a table knife, or a spoon, or just their hands. Let me state (again) for the record that especially for bookbinding, the quality of my results improved substantially when I started using a bone folder. Do not forgo the folder. The folder is your friend. And don't cheap out and buy the plastic kind. Get real bone. It makes a difference. It seems like it shouldn't, but it does.

I grouped the folded pages into four page signatures. Normally, I would go with 6-8 page signatures, but these pages are kinda thick (65lbs. stock). Then I used two staples at the signature fold to keep each signature together. Because the throat depth on my stapler is too shallow to reach the fold, I had to open up the stapler and staple through the signature into a block of cork (an old coaster), then fold the ends of the staple over by hand.

Once all the signatures were together and stapled, I gathered them all together into a text block, made sure the edges were square and even at the spine, and trimmed the fore edge of the text block with a guillotine style paper cutter.

This paper cutter is awesome. It is super heavy duty. I found it on Craig's List for like $60-75 in perfect condition. I looked it up online and found this model retails for $400. The only issue it has (and the #1 complaint against it in online reviews) is that it doesn't cut straight if the stack of paper is TOO SMALL. This thing is designed to cut like 300 pages at a time! If you try to cut a stack that is less than about a half inch thick, the presser foot doesn't engage properly (not enough travel in the screw adjust to make it press all the way down to the bed) and so the pages don't get held firmly to the bed. This makes them move as the blade engages, and makes for a bad cut. To combat this problem, I plan to make a removable 3/4" thick spacer strip (probably out of wood) to place between the presser foot and the pages, for use with short stacks of pages.

With the signatures all stapled and the fore edges all neatly trimmed, it was time to glue the text block into the dado on the wooden spine. I used a flexible, but very strong, glue called E6000. I laid the glue inside the dado, not going all the way to the ends, but covering a large swath in the middle, making sure that the glue was distributed across the entire width of the dado, so every signature's fold would be sure to get glued.

Before pressing the collected signatures into the dado (which was a tight fit), I glued in a ribbon bookmark. I was careful to keep the text block aligned as it was pressed into the dado. One signature didn't seat all the way down to the spine because of the tight fit, so I used a razor knife, the kind with the wide snap off blade, and slid the blade into the center of the signature (sharp side away from the fold) and pressed the fold down to the spine.

The last step was to attach the front and back cover boards with brass hinges. I used a small piece of card stock as a spacer to make sure the spacing at the top and bottom was even. Then I used an awl to mark the center of the holes, which I then pre-drilled before attaching the hinges with the brass screws.

E6000 is a very strong glue, but I wanted a little more insurance that none of the signatures would come loose, as they are not sewn together. So, I pre-drilled some holes along the side of the spine and into the text block near the folds. Then I drove in 1" brass brads from both sides. This will pin the signatures together, and pin them to the spine block as well. A tiny drop of CA glue was added under the brad head to keep it from backing out.

 And, that's it! A completed prototype of my new wooden covered book design. I'm very happy with the way it turned out. I think the pine boards look very nice, especially for scrap 2x6's. I think some nice hardwood boards would look even better. I'm going to look online and try to source some nicer looking hinges too. These were just what I could find at the hardware that would fit, and weren't too expensive. I'm looking forward to making some more of these.

It occurs to me that this is the first book, or book like thing, I have made in several years. I kinda miss book binding. One thing that sucks about having so many diverse interests; you never get to spend enough time with any of them.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Laser Engraved Pendants

I haven't shown much of it yet, but lately I've been working a lot with my new Glowforge laser cutter/engraver. I started out making rune sets, mostly. Then I realized I could make even more money from the same amount of wood and nearly the same amount of effort by taking the same rune template and replacing the individual runes with different images and symbols, stringing them on a necklace and selling them individually. At $6 a necklace (which I think is a pretty decent deal) I can make $150 from the same 25 chits of sapele wood that would make one rune set, which would normally sell for about $30.

The difference in profit more than makes up for the added materials (satin cord, jump ring and accent bead) and the added labor of stringing them together.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Three More Wands

A few weeks ago, I got back into making a few wands on the lathe. They turned out pretty good, and I was happy that I finally got to use some of the wood that I had been drying. I wanted to capitalize on that momentum, so I cranked out a few more.

The smallest one is made from "Tree of Heaven" (Ailanthus). It is basically considered a "junk" wood, because it has wide growth rings, contains a lot of water, and cracks and twists horribly when drying. It's also kind of a boring ugly color. Not good for much from a woodworking standpoint. But I have a bunch of it and I was eager to see how it turned. For smaller items like this, it's not too bad. Certainly usable, if not particularly pretty.

The middle one is more of that elm I worked with the other week. These were some of the first boards I slabbed and dried. It doesn't have a particularly interesting grain pattern, but it has a nice warm color and it turns well.

The bottom one is a piece of recycled oak. I'm not really thrilled with the way the handle turned out, but someone might like it.

 I think I need to start doing some different designs. I feel like I'm in a rut. My wands are starting to all look the same.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Polymer Clay Inlaid Runes v1.0

I've been making rune sets with my new laser cutter/engraver. Most of them have turned out pretty good, but there has been a learning curve.

 I wanted to experiment a little bit with using some material to inlay the runes. The laser can cut the runes nice and deep, and it just seemed natural to fill that groove with something, like epoxy or polyurethane resin, or polymer clay; something that would sand smooth and make for a good inlay.

My first attempt was using brass powder mixed with polyurethane resin. This didn't work out so well. My ratio of powdered metal to resin was way off, and it didn't fill the runes as smoothly as I had hoped. It did work, but there were a few air bubbles, and it just looked like an ugly color of resin, not like brass inlay, which is what I wanted. Sorry, no pictures of this first experiment.

My second attempt was to try polymer clay (sculpey). This worked a little better, on the inlay part at least, but there were still a lot of logistical issues that made this experiment more or less a failure.

One of the harder things to get perfect with this laser cutter is registration. There is a lot of parallax distortion in the central camera.  This makes it hard to line things up, like centering a rune symbol on the cut out piece of wood. The farther away from the center of the camera's field of view, the worse the error becomes. This has become a large part of the difficulty I have had with making these runes.

Because it is easier to sand and finish a plank of wood than it is to sand and finish 25 little pieces of wood, it is logical that I try to cut the runes into the plank, and then do the inlay before cutting them out. But this runs into the parallax problem. If I cut them at the same time I engrave them, the processes are relative to each other, and so they will come out fine. But if I try to engrave them, and then put them back in to cut them out later, they will never line up right again. It seems like they should, but they won't.

Anyways... I re-sawed an oak 2x4, that a friend gave me, into planks. One was about 3/16" thick and two more were about 3/8" thick. I laid out the runes in Inkskape and engraved them with my Glowforge laser cutter. I didn't cut the pieces out, as I normally would. I just engraved the runes and left them a solid plank. Then I sat down and started filling the runes with ploymer clay.

I made sure to fill the engravings completely, and let the clay mound up a bit. Then I baked it according to the instructions on the package. Then I sanded the tops smooth, getting rid of all the mounded up clay and revealing the shape of the rune.

I had watched a few videos on this technique, and they all suggested treating the clay with CA glue after it is baked and sanded. This helps to harden the clay, and it fills in any tiny cracks or gaps between the wood and the clay. Then, of course, it has to be sanded flat again.

I figured it would be easier to apply finish while the board was whole rather than to apply it to 25 little pieces, so I gave the plank a couple coats of tung oil. This turned out to not really be as good of an idea as it first appeared. Pretty pointless really, as this finish will end up being ruined/sanded off in future steps.

OK, so here comes the tricky part. In a perfect world I could just put the planks back into the laser, apply the same settings as when I engraved the runes, everything would line up perfectly, and now I could just cut the outlines to separate the pieces, right? Right. Never going to happen. I played with the settings for about 10 minutes trying to dial them in as close as I could get them, so that the image on screen overlaid the runes already engraved on the wood. Could not get them to match up for the life of me. Mind you, this is the same file that was used to engrave them in the first place. Nothing has changed. Still, I could not get them to line up perfectly. And this is on the thicker planks that stayed nice and flat. The thinner plank curled up like a potato chip when it got baked.

So I got them as close as I could, and decided to just score the outline and use that as a guide and cut them out on the band saw. The thicker planks would have been a bit hard to cut through on the laser anyway. It has limits.

 The score lines were OK on some of the runes, and way off on others. No good. I couldn't even use them as guides. I ended up sanding them off. Then I tried another idea. I would use the file to cut out a template on card stock. I could then trace around where the cuts should be with a pencil after lining up the template manually.

 This... sort of worked. Not really. The template wasn't perfectly spaced either (though I can think of no logical reason why it wouldn't be). And tracing around the holes was very difficult because the gaps between them were extremely thin. So I tried another trick that has served me well in the past, spray paint. A light dusting of spray paint over the template would give me a good visual guide to follow on the band saw.The results were, well... less than I had hoped for.

 The paint didn't give me very crisp lines, so on the last plank, I decided to just grid off the runes with a ruler and a pencil. It could hardly be worse than what I was already dealing with.

I cut out all the pieces on the band saw, and cleaned them up and rounded over the corners on the disk sander. I also had to sand off the spray paint, which made the tung oil I had put on basically worthless.  The spacing was abysmal. About 1/3 of the runes are not centered. The sizes of the chits are inconsistent, as are the shape. Overall, I give them a grade of D for quality. Total crap. But I have too much time invested in them to just throw them away (which is what I want to do), so I'll probably sell them super cheap just to recoup some of the sunk labor costs. I slathered them in lemon oil (old english) and called them done.

Total crap.