Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A Square Deal

I recently connected with a new client from the west coast who is interesting in commissioning one, or maybe two, pieces of furniture. This person, 'Client H' I'll call him, spent several years living in Japan and thus has had some exposure to Japanese architecture and furnishings. He has a strong liking for Claro Walnut, so that is the medium on this first piece, a square coffee table. Client H has kindly allowed me to blog about the design and the build, so here we are.

With the extended hair pulling that has characterized the sideboard design familiar to regular readers I'm sure- a design which is still in process - I had some apprehensions as I started this design, however things flowed rather well and I felt quite pleased with the initial pass through. Not quite shaken out of my sleeve, but close. Walnut can be obtained in some fairly wide pieces, so I chose to take the tack of designing around a 1.5" thick slab top. The legs are about 2.5" square. Overall the table is 38" square, 19" tall, a simple 2:1 ratio.

Here are the preliminary views, and I haven't had any feedback yet from the client so I'm not sure if all this will get tossed or not, but I thought I'd share it all the same.

Perspective:


As you can see, bronze leveling feet are fitted. All solid wood, no fasteners or glue anticipated otherwise in the construction.

A similar view, this time with the Claro clicked 'on':


Elevation:


The waist is composed of several 'pillow block' like pieces, in simplified form at this stage. Those pieces are shown in a contrasting color, but at this point I'm undecided as to whether to introduce a secondary wood or not. I think the client had some interest in 'accents' without ornateness, so this is a step in that direction. Making the waist out of separate pieces is a nod to architecture, allows even air circulation to the top, and generally speaking I like negative spaces in a piece

And a worm's eye view:


I decided to offset the surfaces of the 3-way mitered rail to leg junction. All pieces are flat-chamfered, giving a faceted look.

Early days yet, so it will be interesting to see what devolves. After months on end of working with super hard abrasive woods, I am really looking forward to digging into some walnut.  Ahh, medium density....

I hope you'll pop back sometime to see what happens. Thanks for coming by the Carpentry Way. On to post 2.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

One Shot for Glory

An alternate title for this post might have involved the word 'nipple' however I thought better of it. No telling what sort of traffic that might attract.

Both of my German-made woodworking machines use a lubrication system to keep certain parts oiled. You're supposed to oil things regularly, and if you're going to do something with regularity it should be as painless a process as possible, yes? If it is a hassle, you may grow disinclined to do it, and that is bad for the machine in the long run. How many things out there have a shortened lifespan due to neglected maintenance? How much does that cost?

These lubrication systems use a 4mm O.D., 2mm I.D. hose which attaches to one or more oil nipples, or ports, tapped into the side of the machine table.

Here's the set on the shaper:


These are fitted even before the paint goes on the machine. They are not located especially conveniently, as the sliding table occupies the same side of the machine and slides right past them, or, at times, might sit right in front of them:


I feel they are in a slightly inconveneint position on the machine.

And here's the lone port on the jointer:


The way you lubricate these oil ports is by way of a spring-operated oil gun:


The oil is contained inside the handle by a plastic plug  - - which is on the other end of the chain you see in the picture. The red plastic caps fit over each end, and the chain tucks inside.

I'm not sure if Martin makes these oil guns or not, but they do not impress. The oil tends to leak out just when the tool is sitting around, which can make a mess. The large plastic cap will fall off if you look at it the wrong way. And when you use the tool, if you do not keep it perfectly perpendicular to the oil nipple, then most of the oil does not make its way into the nipple but just runs off the front and drips on the floor or other parts of the machine as the case may be. That is a tad frustrating, messy, and wastes oil.

I asked the machine dealer if there was a better option in terms of oil pump guns and he seemed to think that there wasn't, at least not from Martin. He'd tried a couple of other brands but they offered no real improvement.

Martin did have one option available though: a centralized lubrication system. This is how that looks:


All you have to do is keep the glass cylinder filled with enough oil, and give the handle a pump whenever you want to lubricate the machine, and it will lubricate all connected points.

Martin makes the centralized, 'one-shot' lubrication pumps in house. I asked Martin USA for a price on the unit and learned that it was an astonishing $936.00, and a 3~5 week wait.

I decided to look at what other options there might be. One shot central lube systems are common on a lot of metalworking equipment, like milling machines. Manual lubricators contain spring-actuated piston pumps. as the lubricator spring is compressed by actuating the handle, a measured quantity of oil is drawn into the piston chamber. Release of the handle forces the inlet check valve to close and the oil “shot” is forced into the distribution system under pressure of the compressed spring. Fancier lubrication pumps are operated at a push of a button or even automatically.

I was hoping to find something make in the US, but to no avail.

I then came across this unit, made in Taiwan, the CLA-8:


It was all metal (aluminum housing), and cost $49.00.  For the price of one Martin unit, I could buy 19 of these.

Now, if the price of OEM was at most double, or something like that, or the function of the part especially critical in terms of how fastidiously it was made, I would tend to go towards the OEM item. But in this case, the price difference between the two options was just too extreme, and the function somewhat non-critical besides. And I thought the Taiwanese unit looked well made with quality materials. I have found most things made in Taiwan to be fairly decent - maybe not at first, when they started exporting in a larger scale, but they got better quickly. The same thing happened with Japanese export products after WWII.

Taiwanese quality is there - or rather, can be there- with bicycles and bicycle components, in my experience. I don't have the same negative feelings towards Taiwanese workers displacing hundreds of thousands of jobs as I do for China, but maybe that's an irrationality on my part. Taiwan is a much smaller country with a much smaller footprint, and they seem to be trying to make decent stuff.

Still, I kept looking to see what other options there might be.

I came across used pumps which had been pulled off of old Bridgeport milling machines, like this Bijur unit:


It looked like it was on its last legs, missing some parts even, and they wanted $120 for it. No thanks.

The modern version of the above unit looks like this, the Bijur Delimon L5P, retailing for around $200:



Where's it made? China

Next in line was another brand new Bijur model of pump and was pretty nice looking, but I wasn't sure exactly how I might mount it cleanly on either machine. The price? $575:


I found another Taiwanese made pump, the CKE-8, which went for about the same price as the other one and was a clone of the Bijur:


This one was less compact than the other and the handle kind of stuck out a bit, like the Chinese-made Bijur. Now, how to explain the 4-fold price difference between the Bijur and the CKE-8? Hmmm, here one suspects that the price difference is purely mark-up unrelated to manufacture.

I keep looking, and mostly all I could find were other offshore porducts of one quality or another, and European pieces which cost many multiples more than the ones from the far east. In the end, weighing all the factors, I decided that the all-metal CLA-8 Taiwanese pump made the most sense for my needs. So I bought two. Do I cringe slightly at the thought of putting a Taiwanese oil pump on the side of the Martin? Yes, a little bit. Do I feel bad that I can't/won't support a US or European manufacturer? Yes, a little bit, however I'm also annoyed at the price on the Martin's part as the pump itself is nothing too complicated. I think it is a bit of a price gouge really, but, yah, it is what it is. They want to charge 'X' and I can decide to do something else, if the option exists and seems reasonable.

If I had my own milling machine I would probably have a go at making one of these things, but no milling machine graces my shop at this time.

Before I ordered the pumps I made sure that there was a place on each machine to mount the pumps. I also checked in with Martin in Germany and asked them where they would mount their pump on the shaper given the fitment of the sliding table. On the shaper, the ideal place to mount the pump was on the back of the machine, on a plate that forms part of the bracket carrying the fence support lift.

Here's a look down the back, and you can see the plate with the four holes I have drilled:


The spacing for the pump bolt mounting holes was 100mm across and 110mm up and down. I laid out the lines, center-punched the holes, drilled them out with a 13/64" bit, and then tapped them for 6mm x 1.0 threads:


I had to prep the oiler first, mounting the hose before installing the pump on the machine seemed the simplest way to proceed.

Here you can see how the 6mm hose attaches with a brass compression fitting:


I put a little teflon tape on the threads and tightened it up. Normally I would avoid using a Crescent wrench for tightening a fitting, however I didn't have the correct size of flare nut wrench on hand and the tightening forces are not very high so there was little danger of deforming the fitting:


Then I mounted the pump on the plate using stainless 6mm x 20mm button head cap screws with one split washer and one plate washer under each of the heads:


There is a port for the oil on each side of the machine - in the above photo you can see the one which is plugged on the unit.

Here's a look at the pump mounted in place:


The 6mm line snakes in under the table and works its way down and across the interior of the cabinet.

Here's the entry point, viewed inside the cabinet:


I leave the zip ties loose and untrimmed until everything is in position. The camera's flash makes the blue look green, by the way.

The hose travels down and across the bottom of the cabinet, tied onto the electrical and air hose lines in the area:


At the end, the 6mm hose needs to connect onto two 4mm hoses, and I had obtained a tee fitting and related parts to make that junction:


My supplier for the hose fittings was Air and Power Transmission in New York. Very pleasant to deal with and fast service. Note that only the brass coupler attaches by compression with the above assembly. The three ends (two on the T, and one on the adapter) are all slip fittings, where all you have to do it cut the tube to the correct length, make sure it is clean, and then push it into the fitting to complete the connection. What could be easier than that?

Here's the connection installed:


One of the 4mm lines lubricates the sliding sleeve for the spindle:


And the other lubricates the threaded raise/lower mechanism:


Right, with the hook up complete it was time to fill the pump reservoir:


The reservoir took almost all my oil on the initial fill. I won't have to refill this very often.

Once I was done filling, the cap goes back on the pump and it was time to actuate the handle and move some oil along:



It took several pumps to purge the air out of the system, and soon enough I had oil coming out at the point where the thread gets some lovin':


No leaks anywhere and it all worked just fine. What's wrong with this picture? Where's the drama? It was too easy!

As for the jointer, the pump was mounted to a 5mm thick plate at the back of the frame:


There is a single oil line to connect, and in this next picture you can see it clearly, strung along the underside of the machine table and exiting to the right:


I couldn't complete the line hook up though as I realized I was short an adapter fitting to reduce from 6mm at the pump to the 4mm hose. I ordered that part up and should have it in a couple of days. It'll take less than a minute to complete the connection.

I'll need to obtain some more oil as well of course. I bought the Martin product earlier, but it is a bit pricey and often out of stock (I had to order from Canada last time) so I will probably buy some Mobil Vactra 2 this time:



It's also available in a 5-gallon drum for $85, which makes it much, much cheaper than the Martin oil. It's the recommended lubricant for milling machine ways, so it should be fine. To quote from the manufacturer:

Mobil Vactra Oil No. 1 and No. 2 are recommended for horizontal slideways on small to medium size machine tools. They are also suitable for circulating application in large machines and as a moderate duty hydraulic fluid.

Well that's that. I hope you enjoyed this little account of my work to install centralized lubrication on a couple of machines. It is fairly simple job to do, it seemed to me, so it would be safe to say that any machine which requires a regular shot of oil lubrication would be a similar candidate for a conversion like this.

Thanks for your visit!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Cabinet Shuffle

* I inadvertently hit 'publish' while in the middle of writing this piece yesterday so some readers saw this before it was ready. My apologies!

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When I was 19 or 20 years old I had part time work as a bicycle assembler and mechanic. That was my winter job through the years spent at college. When I started that job, the assistant manager took me down to a local tool store where they purchased a set of basic mechanics tools and a small three-drawer toolbox made by Waterloo on my behalf. I paid them back for those tools and toolbox with a portion of my earnings over the next year or so.

I still have that toolbox today and it works fine, except for one problem. In the intervening 25-odd years since I, uh, met my Waterloo, I have made various purchases of more tools, such as wrenches and socket sets, etc.. I have not however acquired another tool box, preferring, ahem, to completely over-stuff that three-drawer unit and then to stack excess tools on the floor, or anywhere I could find a place. This wasn't out of choice necessarily, but I kept putting off doing something about the tool storage situation. It only rears its ugly head as a problem when I'm wrenching on my truck, and searching for, say, a 14mm wrench involves completely unpacking about 30 wrenches crammed in a drawer before I can find it - or find it isn't there, in all likelihood, and have to go looking elsewhere. Does this sound familiar to anyone? It does get old after a while, let me assure you.

I was in my local Napa auto parts store about 3 months back and noticed a fresh display they had set up with a Homak brand of tool cabinet, a 40" or so unit with a cabinet stacked on top. They were on special until December 31st, and the price was around $750 for the upper-lower combo I was looking at. That wasn't a crazy price by any stretch, and it reminded me about my tool box situation and so I started looking at what was available in the world of tool boxes in a bit more earnest.

A few weeks later I decided to pay a trip to my local Sears store, a 30 minute drive down the interstate. It's located in a mall, which I avoid like the plague, however there was an exterior entrance so at least I didn't have to brave the full-on retail scene and zombie hoardes.

I have memories going back to childhood of going to the Sears store (called Simpson Sears in Canada back in the day) and have some familiarity with their Craftsman® line of products. While one could argue that tools from Snap On or Matco, etc., might be better in some minor way, the Craftsman tools shared the concept with those other tool companies that if anything went wrong with the tool, you simply returned it and would be given a new replacement on the spot. Presuming it was in stock of course. Presuming it is not a now-discontinued item of course. Presuming you are not trying to return more than 3 items at time. The Sears Craftsman® no-hassle replacement warranty, though I'm sure the subject of a certain degree of consumer abuse, was in effect a means by which Sears obtained brand loyalty among their customers. They're like a good friend, standing by you in thick and thin. Well, this was the idea, the promise it appeared. Now it is more accurate to place an asterisk next to the Craftsman Lifetime Replacement Warranty. I say this because one can certainly find instances where this warranty does not appear to be all it is cracked up to be. Cases in point can be found readily online.

I haven't been in Sears in years, however when I visited I was immediately reminded of the last time I was in the Hudson's Bay, another Canadian department store: staff are few and far between, and only to be found at the cash register in most cases. you're on your own for the most part, unless you get lucky and stumble upon a staffer lost somewhere in the shelving aisles. I spent a good hour looking at the various tool boxes Craftsman had on offer, and it was a bewildering array. What wasn't clear were exactly what the differences between various models, and a large handing sign depicting tool box models turned out to be more than a year or two out of date and quite misleading. I kept searching for a model that they don't even produce anymore after perusing that sign, only to realize later on that it was simply an old sign and nothing more. The fact that such a sign was still hanging up gives you an idea as to how 'with it' the store seems.  I might have saved myself some time and trouble if I could have found a salesperson to give me the rundown, but for about half the time I was in there weren't even staff manning the cash register, about 3~4 paces away from the tool box displays. They did have a 'badass' Harley Davidson' painted toolbox, but it was the same quality of thing as the others:


Dude, did you see those mag wheels! Yawn. Okay, okay- I understand that if you have a Hog you might find this attractive, but it did nothing for me.

They also had a pink toolbox which was a 'cancer awareness' model - Sears being another company jumping on the corporate pinkwash bandwagon:


The quality of the boxes was not particularly impressive - regardless of paint scheme - fairly similar to the 'Husky' brand that is flogged by Home Depot in most respects. If there were important differences, there were no staff available to educate me in that regard. And when you see them resorting to cheesy tactics like paint schemes to sell product, I begin to wonder about the quality otherwise. A lot of what makes a toolbox good or not relates to the gauge of metal used, the details that are largely unseen, like the internal and floor framing. They know you're going to open and close the drawers of the boxes in the store when you check them out, and start at the paint, however that doesn't tell you much about how the drawer slides stand up over time or how well the drawer works when it is loaded with 70 lbs of tools.

While some Craftsman tools are still made in the USA, the tool boxes are not. I wonder when they were last made domestically? They come from China now, just like the Homak and the Husky brand boxes. Like those boxes, they don't exactly ooze quality. While they have metal slides and all, the drawer sheet metal is simply cut on the edges, not folded over. The wheels are cheap on the roller cabinets, with uncertain bearing quality - if they have bearings at all. I figured if Sears was selling the same sort of Chinese-made boxes as seemed to be available at any number of other stores, then why should I be supporting them? Simply because the plastic badge says 'Craftsman'? Sears is now just a brand within the K-Mart family and K-Mart, well, it has a particular focus in retailing similar to its main competitor, Walmart. Not sure how compatible this retail strategy and outlook will be with the Craftsman brand over the long term, but I would suspect it doesn't bode especially well. We'll see. After my Sears experience, I starting looking online at reviews for different tool boxes, and checking out dozens of different brands.

There is a basic division in tool box land here in the US:
  • Those items made in the US
  • Those items made offshore or 'down south'
There are of course fine toolboxes made in Germany and Japan, but we don't see any of those over here for some reason.

The made-in-USA tool boxes include Snap-On®, and their competitors in similar lines of business supplying direct to the trade out of large vans crammed with beautiful and expensive tools.

A representative example from Snap-On® might be the KRL series, which, according to Snap-On's sale literature,
The KRL storage cabinets are built with double-wall construction, which uses two full-sized layers of high-quality "Class 1" heavy-duty steel to provide ultimate strength, durability and finish. Heavy-duty ball bearing drawer slides help drawers open smoothly and interchange easily, and the Snap-on® Lock N' Roll® system prevents drawers from drifting open during unit transport and non-slip liners keep stored tools in place.
 Yeah, yeah, a bunch of marketing hyperbole, right?

Well, they do make a pretty darn strong tool box, as this picture attests:


And there's the matter of the price. The KRL roller cabinet, depending upon length, color, specifics, costs anywhere from $2600 to $5900. Full Snap-On tool box arrangements, of lower roller cab, upper cab, side cabinets, etc., can range on up to $18,000. Yes, I meant to put all those zeroes in there. The products from Matco, Mac, and so forth are not too different. And they hold their value extremely well, as used ones still typically command prices in the thousands.

IF I were a full time mechanic making my living wrenching on cars or helicopters or dump trucks, I would have no qualms about obtaining a fine quality product like that and getting on a first-name basis with my local Snap-On dealer. However, my use of a metal tool box is sporadic at best and there's no way I can justify spending thousands and thousands for something I won't use on a daily basis and is essentially a box to store tools. It's the tools themselves that are the important thing. I'll happily make similar investments for woodworking equipment as it is my bread and butter and passion, but won't do the same for those tools, like wrenches sockets, pliers, etc., which I only pull out once every few months. Were I a zillionaire, it might be different of course.

So, the other option in terms of a new tool box is the offshore one it would seem, and 99% of the time that means 'Made in China'. I did some research and found a thread on garageforum or somewhere like that where a guy had gone into various stores and checked out various toolboxes in detail, measuring the gauge of the metal used and noting the details as to how they were framed, what sort of wheels they had etc.. His conclusion was that the best bang for the buck, the best value was a 41" roller cabinet sold by an outfit called Harbor Freight. I'd sort of vaguely heard of this store before, a nationwide chain that sells heavily discounted - that's code for cheap - tools. I'd never been in a Harbor Freight store, however I found that there was one located in Springfield, MA - that's right, the home of Smith and Wesson, and, at one time in the past, Indian Motorcycles - about 35 minutes down the interstate from where I live. It's a place with many boarded-up brick factory buildings. I decided to go and take a look and see what was what at the HF store.

Well, the Harbor Freight store sign should really be changed to 'Made in China'. That would be the most accurate description of what they sell. Just about everything in the store is from China as far as I could tell. And boy, there were bargains on top of bargains, and if you happened to have some Harbor Freight coupons in your possession, so much the better. I looked over their tool boxes, branded 'US General', and they seemed okay. No worse, certainly, than what Sears or Napa or Home Depot were selling, and, if that web review was accurate, a notch better in certain respects. With the right coupon, I could purchase the 41" roller cab for $349.00. Yup, for the price of the cheapest Snap-On KRL roller cabinet, I could buy 7 of the US Generals.

I walked around the store a bit more, and started feeling a bit uneasy - or was it queasy? - and left.

Therein lies the dilemma for me: Made in China

First off, I have nothing against China or the Chinese. My greatest esteem is for Chinese classical furniture and their wooden temple architecture was fabulous. They created the modular system of architecture. They created Tung Oil. But hey, I'm only looking at things narrowly of course. The Chinese invented a huge number of things without which modern technological society would simply not exist. Things like paper, printing, compass, gunpowder, dams, bells, brewing, noodles, lacquer ware, banknotes, blast furnaces, ship bulkheads,  bristle toothbrushes, cast iron, chemical warfare, fireworks, fishing reels, kites, nail polish, ship rudders, toilet paper, ... that's just a smattering of examples. Thank god for the Chinese - where would we be in the West today without having, um, ripped off so much of their technology, and doing so without paying a cent for the intellectual property? Ah it was fun to reverse that sentiment. Take away the Chinese inventions and we would still be in the middle ages, trying to stay one step ahead of the latest form of plague making the rounds.

But that history of invention is not what 'Made in China' connotes these days, now is it? It symbolizes the die-off of manufacturing in the US and elsewhere and the loss of skilled jobs, and snuffing out of skilled trade practice. Nowhere was this more poignant for me than when I was standing in that Harbor Freight store. There wasn't a single thing in that store that wasn't made here in the US at some point in the past 30 years. Lots of people are like me, I suspect, in shaking their tiny fists at this situation, cursing the term 'Made in China' under their breath, swearing never to buy any of it until...until you need something, and then you find you haven't got much choice in the matter anymore. Try to buy a light bulb or toaster oven or any number of other conventional consumer goods and the choices are pretty slim in most cases: China or nothing. And once you look at the price difference, well, the decision isn't hard to make for most folks I suspect. Let's see, this shovel is made in Pennsylvania and costs $150, and this one from China looks much the same and costs $14.99...hmm....

Made in China means both the loss of the middle class here, and the exploitation of workers in Chinese factories. They're two sides of the same coin.

To buy 'Made in China', given what that means in the bigger picture, is a hard choice for me to make, especially when it comes down to tools. I can deal with having little choice but to buy a light bulb or mop, or other mass-produced whatnot made in China, but tools are closer to my heart and interests in life. With tools, you can work on things, fix things, create things. Tools are more personal, more connected to my values in so many ways. Tools are made by skilled workers, and good tools can only be made by people who care about more than the bottom line of pricing. The bean counters of this world do not make good tools, at least not as their day job.

I don't blame the Chinese one bit for this state of affairs in consumer culture. They are making what 'we' want, or so it would appear. The Chinese just put a robot lander on the moon and are a well-established nuclear power, so they certainly can make things to the highest required level of technical sophistication. No question about that - case in point here. The funny thing is: why don't we see those sorts of things over here? Why is everything from China that we see in the store invariably low in quality? Are they trying to screw us over? Or, are we trying to screw ourselves over? I suspect the latter.

Let's do a little thought experiment. Let's say you run Acme Company, and lately you have been noticing  - well, people on the board of directors have been noticing, or perhaps the MBA's you hired to make the company more profitable have been noticing - that the cost of 'doing business' in China seems very attractive. Gosh-darned attractive, and no irritating requirements for pension plans or union scale wages or any of that nonsense. You could offshore your entire operation, lay off the employees and the shareholders - er, 'stakeholders' is now the fashionable term - would I'm sure be delighted with an increased return on their investment.

Acme Co.'s best seller is the Deluxe Widget, which has been retailing of late for $99.99. Sales have slumped a bit due to competitors offering a lower cost product. So, you scope out a few different manufacturers in China and note that you do in fact have a few options in how you can go about the offshore production of Deluxe Widgets. No matter what, operating costs at the Chinese factory are going to be lower, as are labor costs, which will be drastically lower. You have the option to import the same equipment over to China that you were using in your US factory, if so desired.

What are those production options for our Deluxe Widgets?

  1. We're going to take advantage of China's high skill in making precision equipment and we are going to have a new improved Deluxe Widget made, with even higher quality materials, at a but a modest increase in price.
  2. At the exact same price point we are going to have the Deluxe Widget made, with the same or maybe slightly better materials, and the same level of workmanship.
  3. We're going to stick with the same quality of materials, but taking full advantage of China's low wage costs, lax environmental regulations, and bribe-able local officials, etc., we are going to bring Deluxe Widgets in for only $69.99
  4. We're going to decide that the US consumer won't be able to tell if the steel and plastics used in our Deluxe Widgets are of inferior quality, or perhaps contain toxic materials - so long as it looks much the same, we are confident we can get a new line of Deluxe Widgets to market for $19.99 each. Surveys have shown that if the item costs less than $20.00, the typical consumer will not complain if it breaks shortly after being used a few times....
Well, we can discount option 1 right away - I've never seen an example of that happening. Option 2 seems reasonable but we don't see much of that either. You'll see a bit of number 3, and a great deal of number 4.

Why is number 4 the popular choice among manufacturers? Well, profitability is greatest with the cheapest things, and consumers will far more readily plonk down a 'trivial' amount of money, like $7.99, $14.99, etc., for an item than they will when the item costs hundred or thousands of dollars. Consumer buying behavior is what drives things, and that behavior is not innate, it is learned. Rather, it is inculcated to be more precise. Looking at the list above, the degree of profitability increases as you move down the list, and it does so exponentially I'm sure.

As Ellen Shell points out in her work Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture, this was once a culture where a farmer might have to work for a month to afford a shovel or a rake, and when spending that hard-earned money they were careful to invest it wisely in a well-made tool. Cheap prices were viewed with suspicion, the assumption being that corners must be cut somewhere to made the item cheaper. By the turn of the century and the appearance of the first department store, and especially later in the post WWII years, where the creation of consumer culture was seen as the answer to the longstanding problem of surplus production this attitude among the consuming public began to change. More precisely: manufacturers needed it to change. In time, the perception of the consumer has come to be reversed, and the cheap item is bought with little thought while the expensive item is viewed with suspicion, the thought being that you are being ripped off or unfairly gouged.

Again, the cheapest items are the most profitable. There is far more profit in the $4.99 mini hammer they have in the 'impulse buy' shelf near the cash register than the $45.00 Estwing hammer they sell elsewhere in the store.

But what to do? I needed a tool box, and yet couldn't justify spending thousands on something that would see part time use. But I really didn't want to buy 'Made in China'. I talked to various folks and most of them seemed to think that buying the 'Made in China' item was fine so long as it was a conscious decision. Well, I remained unconvinced and sat on the matter for a while.

Then Craigslist came to my rescue. I came across a set of Kennedy machinist's toolboxes for sale down in Springfield. The owner had bought them for a project that had failed to materialize, and the boxes were new. They'd been sitting in his garage for 15 years in fact. I went down and had a look, and we settled on a price of $750. These are made in Van Wert, Ohio, and have been for the past 100 years. A rare American manufacturer who is still in business. These aren't boxes that you can park a dump truck on, but they are still very decent, and the set would cost $2100 if purchased new today. Here there are set up in my shop:


It's nice to finally have a place for my hand tools, like these Knipex pliers:


A view of a few other drawers - this tray is a great place to store some of my measuring and layout tools:


Another drawer:


I'm still figuring out where to put things and will be reorganizing a few times yet until it is sorted out in a more logical manner. I'll be getting the four tool box locks all keyed alike and lining some of the drawers with foam and fitting the tools to the foam. All in good time. There is room yet in the toolbox, and i'm liking the sensation of not being maxed out, of being able to find a tool quickly when I need it.

Speaking of storage, I also built a plywood shelf unit to hold shaper tooling and accessories:


I was able to move some of the stuff in that cabinet over from another cabinet which is for router tooling and accessories, making more space available there as a result:


Things are slowly getting more organized in my shop, though I am starting to get pinched for space. One more stationary machine purchase and I'll be maxed out, which means renting a bigger amount of space, which I'd rather avoid. I will need a table saw at some point though!

All for now. Thanks for coming by the Carpentry Way.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

TAJCD Volume II Revision

Thanks to some help from a doctoral student in Germany, I was able to learn of some glitches in, and make several minor revisions to, The Art of Japanese Carpentry Drawing Volume II. This essay, linked in the sidebar to the right of the page, deals with hoppers and their geometry. Hoppers are joined wooden constructions in the form of a funnel (like a flower box, for example), in case the word 'hopper' wasn't obvious in meaning. The study of the hopper form provides an introduction to compound joinery. The Volume swells up to 138 pages now and is hopefully a little bit better and a little bit clearer than previous versions. always looking to tweak and improve my work, so if other readers spot areas in any of the 4 essay volumes that could be improved, please let me know.

I have sent the download link to the revised Volume II essay - revisions are provided free to original purchasers - to all the people I have listed on a spreadsheet. It is possible some of those folks may have changed emails, so if you purchased Volume II previously and did not receive a link to the February 2014 version, then please check your spam folder. If it isn't there, send me a mail and I'll make sure you get the new edition promptly. Those that complete the material in volume I and II of TAJCD can take an optional exam and then are eligible to join the online carpentry drawing study group.

We're getting a bit of a snow dump today, and the shrine lantern in our front yard seems to look nice with the frosted top:


The picture has been cropped at the top to hide most of the background.

Thanks for dropping by the Carpentry Way.