Queries and follow up…

Recently I’ve had a lot of email queries about either blog posts or YouTube videos, most of which are pleasant enough, the odd one which I’ve found a little annoying as they required some time to answer and amounted to email tuition!

One that was pleasant and courteous came from George in Georgia, USA. A nice email and a couple of queries. No problem. So I answered.

And then this morning a follow-up came with some pictures of his first Dreidel box and a good tip for a home-made chatter tool that I thought was worth passing on if his results are anything to go by.

George’s Dreidel and tip:

“Andy, this was the first dreidel box I made out of dogwood and I really like the way it took the chattering. I used a feeler gauge held with needle nose vise grip pliers. I can move the pliers to make the feeler blade longer or shorter and change the chatter real easy. Anyway just thought you might like to see something made from your influence. I believe these will be a hit at Christmas! Thanks for the idea!!
George “

Toxicity in Yew…

This is one of the most common search terms that bring people to the blog, and one that continues to cause heated debate across the woodworking world. As many will know already, I have tried to get a definitive answer to the question…and failed. A reader commented on his own experience of yew sensitivity some time ago, and he has just commented with a worrying update…I’ll copy it here, but the original thread can be read here: http://woodturningblog.wordpress.com/2009/11/10/is-yew-wood-toxic/

Paul Jackson commented on Is Yew wood toxic…

Regarding my previous post on 25th April 2011. I have not turned any yew for nearly a year now after my last incident. One of the symptoms that I sufferered was that the vision in my right eye became blurred for a day or so afterwards and the wrinkles around my eye seemed to be deeper than usual.

I recently decided to do some whittling about ten days ago. I chose a small piece of yew to work with as I reasoned that I would not be producing dust, only shavings and would therefore be ok. The next day the blurred vision reappeared and has been like that since. It has been about 10 days now and I have just returened from my optician.

Having had a good examination I have now been referred to the hospital and I have an appointment about 2 months away!! I have just phoned the doctor to explain that I suspect TAXINE poisening is the cause and that I can hardly see out of the eye. I was told that the doctor will phone me back today. The symptoms this time are the same as last time only more so. Perhaps I rubbed my eye whilst carving. I will keep you all posted on the outcome.

Yes, I’m still here…but you’ll be sorry you asked…

It’s been a difficult couple of months one way or another and besides there not being much to blog about I haven’t actually been in the mood. I suppose we all get that way every now and then.

Things are still quiet and this had a knock on effect in a number of areas, not least of which is the necessity to accept jobs that I’d otherwise turn away or refer elsewhere. Needs must being the internal mantra.

What should have been an interesting job came in a while ago, but there were problems from the start. A “template” that proved not to be a template at all. And this only discovered after a whole day wasted trying to replicate it!

The job was to turn two caulking mallets in the Trafalgar style for a boat supplies company. They supplied the Lignum billets and the bronze sleeves, and the template that wasn’t a template after all. The turning is straight forward enough, but the marking out and pre-drilling for a tapered haft, and stress release slots was a tricky operation to get right. But after some trial and error I got them right in the end, and two are now being used on HMS Bounty in the USA.

The bronze sleeves were a nightmare to get on. The tenon has to be turned to a size appropriate for a heat-expanded sleeve to be fitted, but not so tight as to cause the sleeve to split. Without an accurate way of gauging the expansion of the sleeve this was a nightmare to get right, and a couple were ruined in the process. Oh well.

I also had to turn a small version and a presentation version in Ebony.

I’ve also had a few transport problems AGAIN! Returning home from an AGWB committee meeting on the 25th I was confronted with a closed A14 at Huntingdon. The SATNAV insisted I return to the A14 and for some reason refused to calculate an alternate route. I stopped at a Tesco garage to get an atlas and on returning to the van and starting it I was startled by a horrendous noise. Not being certain what is was I pulled out of the parking bay to find the engine was producing very little power. The noise on driving was horrible, and worrying, but I managed to drive the last 80 miles or so at 40mph.

The next day my fears were confirmed; a disintegrated catalytic converter! Less than happy. Even less so when the rear silencer also proved about to disintegrate during removal of CAT section of exhaust.  So I ended up fitting a complete new exhaust front to back. A day wasted and a day under the van which did my shoulder no good at all. All seemed to go well enough until the test drive. There was an improvement but not 100% right. I was flummoxed. And not a little annoyed.

I took it round to a friendly mechanic who tinkered and listened, prodded and poked, and then uttered the dreadful words…”the back pressure caused by the blocked CAT has damaged the turbo. You need a new one.”

I won’t type my response. Nor the response when I got a quote for a new one.

The day after I was advised to do a “complete” service before committing to a turbo. Apparently dirty oil, blocked fuel/air filters, leaking pipes Etc., can all produce failed turbo symptoms, including the noise. So the van went back on the ramps, and every filter was changed, oil changed, gaskets renewed and seals checked. No change. I suppose they needed changing, but it’s hardly the point.

So for a week I’ve been driving with a failing turbo whilst trying to sort a solution.  Hopefully it will hold up until I find one. An annoying consequence of all this was that I had to cancel a demonstration at the last minute, leaving a club in the lurch, which I hate to have had to do.

So in less than a year this van will have had, a new starter motor, an EDU, four new tyres and a coil spring, a complete exhaust, and a turbo, and a very complete service. Not a good hit rate really for a van that does about 70 miles on an average week. And if one more person says to me, “Great vans. They’ve got the Isuzu engine. Bullet proof.” I may kill them. What’s the point of a bullet proof engine when the rest of it falls apart on any journey over five miles?

So that’s been the last two weeks. The joys of the self employed.

So what about turning? Well not much really, certainly no play time. Today I started a short run of spindles which are a favour for a friend. He’s a chainsaw carver and arborist, and wants them for his converted Bedford “home”. Being a woody he wants them in some burr oak he has supplied! Burr Oak for spindles! No! But, yes…that’s what he wants. And they are far from fun to turn. I’ve had to turn them at far too low a speed for spindles due to the possibility of them breaking, and I’ve had to use a skew for most of them to reduce the stresses. I’ve only done three so far and they’ve taken so long it’s not true. I’ll soldier on as there’s a promise of some firewood in return and it’s been bitterly cold down by the marsh and I’ve gone through about a year’s worth of firewood in three months.

So…there you go. Wasn’t really worth prompting me to post was it?

What is your time worth?…

I haven’t been in the mood to post recently. There have been a number of things I’ve been tempted to post on, but thought better of it. I’ve no stomach for much of it any more and prefer to sit back and let it wash over me. But did wonder about the title of this post…

If you turn full time, and by that I mean as a living not as a non-tax-declared activity, then what is your time worth? What hourly rate do you need to achieve to pay yourself something and cover the overheads? I think that most of the time we are guilty, I certainly am, of forgetting that and working for the sake of bringing something in rather than nothing. And whilst the immediate boost of a few coins in the cash box is always nice, it doesn’t always pay the bills. So why do we do it?

I decided a little while ago, after speaking to a couple of people who know far better than me, to address this.

A couple of weeks ago a clock restorer asked me to make ten simple wooden thumb pegs. Nothing difficult there you’d imagine. The disc is about 13mm thick, 25mm diameter, and has a hole in the 13mm edge to take a 9mm dowel. So the marking out and drilling has to be precise. You don’t want burst walls. The wood used is basically scrap, in fact out of the firewood box. But what is the job worth? I told him I though there was an hour’s work so £25. And he looked like I’d said it would cost 30% of his annual income.

And it was a good hour’s work: machine the stock to thickness, mark up, drill the ten holes, turn down to a cylinder and then turn 13mm beads, cut the beads to discs, cut the dowels, glue the dowels, stain the dowels, abrade the disc top flat, oil and wax to finish.

So what is your time worth? Was/Is £25 for a hour’s work excessive? These things cannot be bought over the counter, they are bespoke in that sense, and in truth not many people will have the equipment and tools to produce them as a uniform batch.

He collects them today so we’ll see what his reaction is.

Cold, Windy & Frustrating…

As the title suggests, that’s what today has been like. I had a very small job to do this morning which was six tiny handles for a dressing table. They were commissioned by the maker, a craftsman and bespoke furniture maker (amongst other things!). unfortunately he had supplied the timber, maple, and had laminated the stock from off cuts. Not always a problem, but he’d laminated it in such as way as to make his request for “end grain turned knobs” impracticable. It would have left a glue joint running across the middle of the face!

So okay, side grain isn’t a problem. It’ll just mean hiding the joint behind the first bead. Except the two pieces weren’t even close to having the grain aligned, and the inner cove had contrary grain which was a pig to turn. But I hate to be beaten and resorted to a small bowl gouge to hold back the inevitable catch and ruination of the knob. And it worked, but was quite tricky on such a small item even with a 10mm bowl gouge. Anyway, I got them done. So all’s well?

Not really. I wasn’t 100% happy with them, but was frustrated because he wouldn’t except anything BUT the wood he supplied (for matching), and I reckon that in total I spent two hours piddling about to achieve six matching knobs, and at £4 a knob that’s £12 an hour for labour, electricity, abrasive and sealer and all the other related overheads. I hope he makes more for the dressing table!

I decided to go home at 1 o’clock. The day seemed to be telling me that enough was enough and for once I listened.

Oh well. Tomorrow’s another day.

Beeplenish polish…

I was sent (along with, I suspect, lots of other turners) a couple of small pots of a new wax polish in the post the other day from a company called Beeplenish. All they asked was that I try it and see what I thought, but I thought it might make a small post here.

The leaflet that came with the wax explains that there are only natural ingredients, no turps, mineral oils, or other additives, and the wax is food safe. The packaging is 98% recycled to, so full marks for environmental care.

I tried it out on a template finial that was on the bench, and it’s nice wax to apply, not being a hard set wax, and buffs to a nice sheen. It travels well with friction, and covers very well indeed. I didn’t notice any problems with ring formation, but frankly didn’t expect any from a soft wax.

I wondered how the market could support another wax, but after trying it I think I’d use this for utility objects only. The anti-microbial properties make it perfect for salad bowls, plates, drinking vessels Etc., and offers an alternative to mineral oil which has environmental issues attached to it. The other advantage of course, is that being a wax you can achieve a nice warm glow which takes work with an oil.

As many customers are now also environmentally aware, and will often query which finishes you use, it could well be a small selling point.

I have no idea what the price is, but can’t imagine it being prohibitive. I’d certainly choose it for utility wear from now on.

Cold and slow…

It’s been so cold down by the river that the firewood pile was looking quite miserable, so with gritted teeth i opened the wood store for the first time since the flood. First problem is the frame, which has been for longer than I’ve been alive, had swollen and buckled and really needs replacing. But that will have to wait for a little while.

Inside there was a pile of leaves and debris that had washed in and will have to be cleared out…when it’s not so cold. As I expected the large lumps of black walnut are beyond saving and will now be posh firewood. Some construction timber is also damaged,so that’s the new bench off the to-do list for a while.

There are other obviously damaged lumps and boards, but I hadn’t the heart to check to closely.

Some of the beyond use stuff went next door to be split for firewood despite still being a little damp it’ll dry soon enough and do to keep the workshop dry and warm.

It’s still deathly quiet. If I hear one more “it’s the same for everybody” i’ll scream. I know it is but that doesn’t help. Another professional turner called the other day…just for a chat…and told me he hasn’t had a commission since July!

I’m glad he didn’t call this week because I’d have had to own up to having three! Don’t get excited. One is for a wooden base to replace a broken glass one on a lidded glass vase, the other a weird request that isn’t even woodwork and doesn’t amount to much, and then today “can you turn me six dressing table handles?”…oh! Let me check the diary!

Anyway…it’s cold and there’s nobody about so after the school run I’m going home to do something useful and fix the shower. Damned solonoids.