Thursday, August 27, 2015

Buying and Selling (II)

In the previous post on this topic, I made some comments about selling my truck and buying a Zimmermann milling machine. I think the machine is probably crated now and should be shipped shortly. I ordered a transformer which takes the shop's 208v. 60hz. 3-phase power and steps it up to 456/60, and that arrived today. It was made in Canada.

I've been a little unsure as to whether I should get a variable frequency drive (VFD) to convert the transformer output to 380v. 50hz., which is what the machine was meant to run on. Some discussions with people more knowledgeable than I when it comes to running old 50hz machines on 60 hz. have assured me that the machine will run fine, though having a VFD might be handy if I want to dial in specific speeds on either of the machine's spindles. So, I still might obtain a VFD, but for the time being I'll run off the transformer and see how things work out.

One of the odd things about my shop set up, I think - at least it would be thought odd by many other woodworkers I suppose - is that I do not have a table saw. I don't have anything against table saws, it's just worked out that I have acquired other machines first and generally gotten along well enough with bandsaws and circular saws, not to mention hand saws. I have been fortunate along the way to have been able to use other people's table saws from time to time when need be.

Part of the reason I haven't obtained a table saw relates to the type of machine I am interested in, and the relative lack of options in the market. For a long time I have wanted a sliding table saw, a 'short stroke' model (i.e., having a sliding table of 6' (1.9m) length or shorter), with belt drive and capacity to run larger blades when needed-  by larger I mean 16" (400mm) or 18" (450mm).

There are heaps of sliding saws available on the second hand market these days, however nearly all of them are configured for cutting sheet goods. Indeed, many people only conceive of a sliding table saw as a machine for breaking down sheet goods. Since most of these saws are sold primarily for sheet good cutting, they typically have a sliding table which is 8', 9', 10', or even 12' in length. While having the long slide capacity is not especially a negative in most contexts, it does require a fair amount of square footage be dedicated in the shop to the sliding saw, and it gets in the way of using the saw to rip cut. And I really don't have that sort of room available. Well, there is extra room available in the building where I rent space, however there are quite a few columns in the way and no convenient place where such a long saw could be accommodated without completely reorganizing everything in my shop, including the dust collection, wiring, etc.. Most of the sliders on the market are limited to a 12" blade, with just the odd model here and there able to accept a 16" blade. And most sliders come with a scoring motor and blade, which is a feature I have no use for.

So the regular sliding table saw was a less than ideal prospect as far as I was concerned.

I had figured out one option, which is a newer Martin T70 saw, with short stroke table, parallelogram digital fence, and a host of wonderful features available at (considerable) extra cost. Definitely they are well-built machines, however a new one remains more than a little outside of my budget. Well outside, far and off up the mountain actually. Used Martin machines in this configuration are comparatively uncommon. There was one for sale a couple of years back out in California that had been installed and never used, however I didn't have near enough money at that time. Then there was a used one up for sale in Austria in recent months, a slightly older machine in very nice condition, but it was sold by the time I came upon it.

And as the years go by, the price of new Martins continues to climb, pretty much at a faster rate than I am able to save pennies. And when I start to contemplate a $35,000 saw purchase, you know, when I snap out of the acquisition fantasy, well, I start to think in terms equal to real estate investment and mortgages. It's just too much and I really can't justify that sort of expenditure even though I would love to have one of those saws.

The type of saw I am interested in could be termed a joiner's saw, configured specifically for precision solid wood cutting. Several companies used to make such machines. I've looked at a bunch of them, makes like Tannewitz, Northfield, Oliver, and the like. Typically they have 4' sliding tables of cast iron, instead of the aluminum sliders you see on more modern saws. As I write this, there are a couple of good-condition Northfield sliding saws for sale in Massachusetts, one with an unusual 4'x4' sliding table, which would seem to offer some interesting potentials.

The main negative I see to those machines has been their direct drive motors. This means that the shaft running through the motor is also the shaft (arbor) to which the saw blade attaches. As a consequence, the motor body size restricts how high the motor can be raised until it runs into the underside of the table top, and this means that you need to run quite large blades to obtain fairly modest cutting depths. A regular 12" belt drive table saw will cut around 4" depth, but with a direct drive saw you may need close to a 16" blade to achieve that depth of cut. The cost difference between a 12" blade and a 16" is significant for one thing, and there are fewer brand choices in the larger blades as well.

Put a 10" blade in a direct drive saw and you may only get 1" depth of cut, which is useless for most things. Smaller blades have their virtues, having less propensity for run out and flutter and noise, and send less wind and dust your way when cutting, and are quite a bit cheaper to buy, so generally it is preferable to run smaller blades in a saw, and yet nice to have that capacity there for a large blade for those times when you need to cut thicker stock.

Advantages of direct drive saws include their simplicity and superb smoothness, however for me that was not enough to outweigh the disadvantages.

There are also more modern German and Italian short stroke models out there, made in the last 25 years or so, more available in Europe than here, by companies like Ulmia, Griggio, Bauerle, and so forth. They're all belt drive models, and accept the smaller size blades, and they don't generally come with sophisticated cross cut fences for executing precise (non-90˚) miter cuts, and this was one thing I definitely wanted to gain if I were to obtain a sliding table saw. They also generally didn't accept dado heads, as dado heads seem to be verboten in Europe for some reason. In the end, I hadn't come across a smaller European model which was compelling enough to incite me to investigate, purchase and import, though undoubtedly I may have overlooked some gems out there. Timing is everything.

---------------

A month or so back an advert appeared for a Wadkin PP 450 dimension saw on one of the larger classifieds. Wadkin is a British company which started up around 1897, and made a range of machines primarily for the pattern making trade. Their consumer base was therefore more likely to be made up of engineers, who tend to see machine quality differently than most woodworkers, perhaps, and pattern making is an exacting discipline revolving around making one-offs rather than production in quantity. They went through a series of mergers, becoming Wadkin-Bursgreen after buying out Sagar in 1956 or so, and then went though a series of bankruptcies in the late 1980's. There still is a company called Wadkin, but I'm not entirely sure what to make of it and the products are certainly not the same as in (what might be called) the classic era.

The saw was for sale in Indiana, and the price was quite reasonable at $2500. Wadkin saws and other machines seem to have been less common in the US than in other countries which received exports from the company. I'm not sure why that is, but suffice to say I hadn't really come across this saw before, save for reading a bit about it here and there.

Here's a cover shot from a Wadkin PP sales brochure that I shamelessly pilfered from a Canadian woodworking forum, an image originally posted by a certain Jack Forsberg, so you can see the saw's general configuration:


I didn't know much about these saws, however I had assumed from previous glances towards them in the past (online, I mean), that they were like the other saws of their type, that is, direct drive.

However, I then came across another picture which told quite a different story:


(photo from J. Forsberg)

This model was a belt drive! And it can accept up to an 18" blade....

Suddenly I realized that this make of saw might be a suitable machine for my twisted purposes. I did a bit more googling and reading, and came across a rebuild thread out of the UK, where I could see some pictures of the machine's guts, and I came away impressed with what I saw. Here's an example:


(originally posted by 'GK1')

That's a substantial, fully-supported all cast iron trunnion there. They're not screwing around. It's a heavy duty machine, made with care for buyers who cared about the quality, and it is a machine that can be repaired completely if need be. Bearings for the drive spindle are readily available.

So, there was that machine for sale in Indiana, as I mentioned. I contacted the seller and asked him some questions. He volunteered that he owned something like a dozen different Wadkin machines and in fact had two of the PP saws, along with its predecessor, the PK saw. I figured he must really like the brand and must know a lot about them, though the condition of the machine he had for sale was a bit on the rough side. He said that either PP saw he had was for sale. The one shown in the advert had a tilting rip fence, the other did not. Either saw was $2500.

The saw was too far away for a casual look-see, so I had to rely upon the seller to paint a clear picture. I asked therefore for more pictures, which eventually were forthcoming, however they were blurry cell phone camera pics and didn't reveal a whole lot more to me. He stated he would drag the machines out into the daylight and take better photos, and would even take a video, but neither ever happened.

One of the curious things about the machines he had for sale was that they had 1" arbor for the blade. All the Wadkin literature I had seen stated that the arbor size was 1.25", and no other options were mentioned. Further, as Jack Forsberg pointed out to me in an email, Wadkin made special dado and trenching heads for the saw, and those accessories only came in one size: 1.25". It would be odd therefore for the factory to have made the saw with another spindle size and not mention it anywhere in the literature.

Still, it was possible the saws out in Indiana were specially made, but I suspected that they had been modified sometime after being first sold. I can imagine a furniture factory buying the Wadkin, maybe as a used machine, and finding that its larger arbor didn't work with a bunch of 1" arbor saw blade stock they had already on hand, so the decision was made to turn the arbor down to the smaller size rather than obtain other tooling which might prove confusing somehow. It's a theory, what the heck...

I asked the seller why the machines had the 1" arbor, whether it was a US-spec thing or a special order or what. I really had no idea. He wrote back and said, to paraphrase, "all the saws I have seen have had 1" arbors". I thought that answer was mildly evasive, perhaps, but it seemed a little odd that someone with so many Wadkin machines and loads of experience with them wouldn't know what was was going on with the smaller arbor. Either he genuinely thought that the saws had 1" arbors from the factory, or he knew more than that and preferred not to be especially clear on the point.

Then there was the matter of the arbor configuration for mounting a dado head. One of the nice things about a lot of these older pattern making saws is that the sliding table can be removed well away from the blade and a dado head, even as wide as 2", can be fitted. Here's another picture showing some of the possibilities with the Wadkin:


(photo from J. Forsberg)

Notice in the picture that the dado head cuts into the wooden packing strip when it is fitted creating a zero-clearance around the cutter?

The way this works is that there is a 1" spacer behind the saw blade, and this spacer and the flange behind are removed so as to accommodate the trenching or dado head. Here's a cross section of the spindle:




The manual clearly states how the trenching or dado head is to be fitted:

I mentioned to the seller of the saw the piece I had learned about the dado head, an aspect which I found interesting, and told him that I guessed this would mean replacing the wooden filler strip fairly often, which seemed like a minimal bother. He replied, "All of the dado blade width is to the left of the insert. You slide the table left and open the gap for the dado blade and it doesn't get chewed up" . That didn't accord at all with what I had learned elsewhere, and since the dado head in such a set up would be run without a wooden piece to give zero clearance, it seemed a recipe for some tear-out. Who knows, 'YMMV' as they say.

And he supplied a picture of one of his saws (the one he had with the fixed fence that he said he used mostly for ripping) which showed the saw blade sticking right up through the wooden filler, whereas it is supposed to run in the seam between main table and sliding table:


The wooden table packing pieces in the miter slots, visible to the left and right of the picture are there because the metal originals were missing from the machine. His other machine had them though.

Well, maybe it doesn't matter where the blade is when you aren't using the slider and just ripping, but at this point I was feeling at least a bit confused by what he had on offer and getting a sense, slowly, that this might not be the purchase for me. I was getting a bit skittish you might say.

I then inquired if he might be interested in selling both saws, thinking that I could put one together with the best parts and sell the other off cheaply down the line, but that wasn't of interest to him. Fair enough.

By this point I had started looking elsewhere, and that lead me to this saw for sale in the UK:


It was a beautiful machine in top condition, and the price was reasonable, however it had been sold by the time I made my enquiry. Typical.

One thing I really like about this make of saw is the use of wooden insert strips along the line between sliding and main tables. This means one could readily have a zero clearance to the saw blade for reducing blow out below the kerf (and improve the cleanness of the cutting thereby), and that if the saw blade ever deflected in the cut, the only damage would be to an easily replaced wooden part. On the modern sliding saws with aluminum sliding tables, it is very common to see damage to the table lip from deflected blades, and only Martin offers a saw which has a replaceable sliding table lip (not a cheap item mind you!). The wooden lips seemed like a perfect low tech and low cost solution to me.

This Wadkin machine was growing on me all the time, however I wasn't sure I'd be able to find the right one. They haven't been made in more than 35 years, and many are over 50 years old, so a lot of them are missing parts and accessories and are generally knackered. These saws can be rebuilt, however I was looking for a saw I could put to use relatively soon, so it had to be in good working condition.

I kept looking, and by this time had decided to pass on either of the saws from Indiana, and I let the seller know that. He replied and told me that he'd sold the saw anyway, so all good.

Then I found this machine on offer from Scott and Sargeant in the UK:


This machine had a couple of unusual features, namely the extended main table giving 72" of rip width, and the extended sliding table. The main table extension is supposed to be held up by a couple of legs, but they were absent at the time of the photo. The saw seems to be able to support the cantilevered weight just fine though!

Here's a pic from the factory brochure showing these table options:



Turns out that the extended main table was a fairly rare option.

It took a while to get rolling with the communication with the company selling the saw, however over  time they provided many detailed pictures and answered all my questions clearly. What more could you ask for?

I asked for a price and they gave me one, including the charge for crating and shipping. I mentioned a few shortcomings on the saw, and compared it to the one I had just missed out on, offering a lower number on the saw, and they agreed to come down to that price. There you have it, I have now acquired a table saw. Wahoo!!

More pictures:


That is really quite a saw table. You could hold a picnic on it. The extension table, by the way, can be unbolted easily, and the seller will do this for shipping purposes.

The pivoting miter fence, which some call a quadrant, was there along with the extension bar and three flip stops:


The Suva style guard is a later addition to the saw it would appear. Typically these saws with the extended main table came from the factory with a small guard attached to the splitter behind the saw blade, and the splitter with the saw has a hole on top for this purpose.

Blade raise and lower (left) and tilt (right), and footbrake to the lower left:


Another view of the blade guard, which is missing a bit of plastic at the front:


Another view of the sliding table and miter fence:


I think that's one of the table legs laying there under the cross cut fence bar. The seller says both legs will come with the machine. Some of the mounting pin locations for the miter fence on the table look a bit distorted. That is repairable if need be. It looks pretty clean overall.

The motor for this saw puts out 7.5hp.

The machine is being gone through by the seller this week and will also be crated by the seller. They are familiar with export requirements, and the fact that they do the crating in-house means I can save a bit of cash. I imagine it might get shipped in the next week or two.

With two machines about to come my way, I've been working to clear space in my shop day by day. Actually, there is no space in my shop for the saw, however I have negotiated a deal with my shop neighbor Joe to put the saw in his space, giving him full use of it anytime. This saw can be run off the same transformer I'll be using for the milling machine.

It's kind of a lot for me to buy two machines at once, however it puts to full use the proceeds from the sale of the truck, so I feel good about it, and the expenditures, being depreciable assets, help offset my taxes too. And my wife is on board with the outlay, so all appears well. The calm before the storm perhaps?

All for today. Thank you for your visit to the Carpentry Way.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A Ming-Inspired Cabinet (5)

It's been a few weeks since posting on this thread -among various thread I have left dangling -oh dear! In the interim, the client and I reached an agreement and he has sent me the initial construction deposit.

The design has undergone some slight structural revisions, though the form looks more or less the same. Here's the current rendering:


The female figure is on the taller side. Cabinet height from the floor to top of the bonnet is a little over 76" (193cm).

The main change I have made is in the construction of the cabinet carcase, which has gone from frame and panel to a box made from solid planks joined at the corners and at shelves:


I made this change as a result of the decision to go with an interior arrangement of a stepped shelf form, which I think is a little cleaner if done with solid planks instead of frame and panel, and the solid planks present no groves in which debris and dust can accumulate. Once that decision was made, the next matter was integrating the solid paneled step-tansu section with a cabinet which was otherwise frame and panel. While there were solutions to that problem, after a bit more rumination, I elected to make the main carcase also of joined board construction. This increased the interior volume slightly and made for some small changes on the aesthetic side.

The wood for the interior has been changed from Black Cherry to Honduran Mahogany. I like genuine mahogany. I say 'Honduran' when it might be more accurate to state 'central American', with the more accurate term being Swietenia macrophylla in any case. I think it pairs well with bubinga. I already have a tsuitate in my house which has a 'Honduran' mahogany frame and bubinga panels and they work great together.

I recently obtained 150 board feet of mahogany from ML Bohlke in Ohio. They generally have great material. I had asked them to sort quartersawn material out of their lift of mahogany, and the 10 boards of 8/4 stock they picked out arrived last week. After I trimmed the ends and inspected the boards, I ended up with just 3 boards that were quartersawn, 1 board which was rift sawn and the rest, 6 boards, were flat sawn. I was disappointed, especially given the $1700 expenditure. It seems that mahogany is a wood generally sawn through and through, and this quartersawn material is comparatively rare. I have enough for one cabinet's worth of interior parts, so that is good. I'm looking to acquire some Shedua for the other cabinet. Sourcing quality material can be tough! And it ain't cheap....

A perspective view:


Here you can more clearly see the repercussion which accrues to the change in framing system - the through-tenon and through-dovetail ends on the side face of the cabinet. I've got these currently drawn as proud of the surface, and may fiddle around with that a little bit yet. Probably the 'steps' inside will also have through dovetails, which may or may not be proud. Not sure at this point how much emphasis to put on those joints, if you catch my drift.

Another perspective view, taking in the back side of the cabinet, which will have three demountable panels:


I could have done all the joinery in such a way as to expose none of it, and in the past, (I'm talking about late 1800's) the choice in high-end cabinetry was generally in the direction of concealing rather than expressing the joinery. In Japanese and Chinese classical work also, the mark of good joinery is/was concealment.

The matter of whether to expose or conceal the joints in a piece is one I revisit, it seems, with every piece I make. That is a conundrum for me due to the culture in which I inhabit and its grasp on the issue.

Concealing the joinery gives the most seamless, uninterrupted view of the beautiful wood figure down the sides, while expressing the joinery make the scene a little busier to be sure. The concealment allows for the greatest pure celebration of the beauty of the wood.

Expressed joinery makes the 'show', so to speak, split itself between the beauty of the wood on one hand and a display of the maker's skill on the other. How much do I want the piece to apparently be about 'me' and how much do I want it to apparently be about the wood?

Expressed joinery, in the above case, is a bit stronger than concealed in most cases. Tenons for the middle shelves are longer, dovetails are longer and there is more interface between the parts. Since I'm not putting all my reliance upon glue for the connection integrity, expressed joins make more sense to me, more often than not, from a structural standpoint. If, say, the mortise and tenon shelf connections are done with complete concealment, then the only traditional mechanical means of securing the connections is with 'fox-tailed' (blind internally-wedged) tenons, or hell tenons - jigoku hozo - as the Japanese call them. These joints are fit in a 'get it right the first time' format, and any goof-ups in how the join draws up will potentially cause a big mess. If the internal wedges are too large, the joint won't close up. If they are too small, the joint will close up, but will not be a firm connection.  One might be tempted to use glue as a 'security policy' with those connections, but then one wonders what the point of the more complex joinery would be in the first place, given that many glues are stronger than the wood itself?

What I'm saying is that there are simpler and fairly effective connections one could choose to employ if relying upon glue and only concerned with the appearance one achieves.

With through tenons, the cabinet joints can be drawn up without too much drama, and the joints wedged afterwards. Here is the basic form of that connection:


When drawn up, the tenons poke through:


Expressed joins also place a greater demand upon cutting the connections cleanly, as more interfaces are going to be viewable. With a concealed joint, like a secret mitered carcase dovetail or half blind dovetail, the interior portions of the dovetails themselves could be a poor fit, and so long as the miter line is clean after assembly, no one is the wiser.

Here's the traditional connection, for the benefit of those readers who aren't clear on what a secret mitered dovetail joint looks like:




But I have another reason to prefer expressed joinery, and that relates to an entirely different consideration:  differentiating my work from other products in the marketplace.

The funny thing about the ideal form of old school joinery, all joint mechanisms concealed, is that it is rather easily duplicated using sheet goods, veneer, and modern fastening systems. It's an interesting coincidence. With a savvy arrangement of veneers and clean fabrication, an apparently mitered cabinet corner join, say, is not going to look any different at all from one done with secret mitered dovetails in solid wood. Aesthetics are nearly identical in that case, and as glued connections go there is not much between them in terms of strength.

I suspect the vast number of furniture makers out there, given a choice between two connections which produce a visually identical result, are going to take the simpler and easier route. They call it 'pragmatism'. I get that, but its counter to the way I think in certain other respects. The miter will be biscuit-joined, dowelled, or 'Domino'd' in a matter of minutes, a task literally achievable by a drunken chimp, in contradistinction to the many the hours of highly skilled fabrication labor which the traditional connection will entail.

I have no plans to go in the direction of using those quickie glued modern connections. Call me 'Mr Stick in the Mud'. With the decision to make the cabinet carcase out of solid boards, then the corner connections really have no other option than to be glued-up joins of some form. Exposed dovetails in those locations 'prove' that the cabinet is of solid wood and that it is put together using time-tested joinery, as do the exposed through tenons in other locations.

Now, it is possible to simulate the look of mortise and tenon joinery with furniture that is made from veneered particle board, however that is less common to see as it entails doing 'unnecessary work', which in other words might be called a '3 dressed up as a 9'. Not to say the consumer will know or be able to tell the difference. It's not as economically rational for companies working in sheet goods and veneer to go to the trouble of making simulated joinery, so most designs using these materials will tend to sport clean 'modern' lines - it is the cheapest and quickest sort of thing to make after all, 9 times out of 10.

This relates to another topic: dovetails. Any real dovetails in most furniture pieces one comes across these days are to be found in one place only: the drawer corners, especially at the front of the drawer. I have a sense that the average consumer of furniture does not recognize what a through-tenon or carcase dovetail is in the first place, so seeing a tenon end exposed might connote nothing significant beyond 'decoration', however slightly savvier buyers have learned to pull the drawers out on a cabinet and check to see if there are dovetails joining the drawer sides to the front - and the furniture companies know that fact very well. It's typically the only part of a cabinet these days with any real joinery, and more often than not that joint is machine cut, as that makes sense from a production standpoint and the consumer is unlikely to be able to tell the difference between a hand-cut and a machine-cut dovetail. I wish it were otherwise, but it isn't.

Now, try pulling the drawer all the way out and see what the maker did with the connections on the back wall of the drawer and you will understand quickly what their real attitude toward such joinery is.

Some furniture makers, wanting to also show off this time-worn traditional mark of quality- the multiple dovetail carcase joint - try to differentiate their hand made drawer dovetails by making the pins so slender that the mortises for them between the tails could not possibly have been cut by machine. However the only people who 'get' this special message, I would say, are other furniture makers. It's a little self defeating too, because on the one hand there is this desire to display the integrity of a traditional connection, while the execution results in super skinny pins, making the entire joint weaker than otherwise.

Frankly I'm not interested in doing any dovetailed drawers, as I have come to feel they have become a bit hackneyed at this point in time. They are a tried-and-true thing, and certainly no one is getting hurt as a result of their manufacture (save for occasional chiseling accidents), but I no longer get much of a buzz from them. Also, as I have come up with a method of making drawers without recourse to glue, using different joinery, so that is what I would prefer to do anyway.

Now, through mortise and tenon joints can be made entirely by machine, including by CNC. The mortises formed using this sort of equipment would be cut with rounded corners, the tenons shaped to match, and truth be told, rounded corners, given that they reduce stress risers, are a stronger form of connection than squared-up connections. They do smack entirely of being machine-made (though I doubt many consumers would perceive this at all), so I will stick with squaring up the mortises for the foreseeable future. Like the simulation of joinery with veneer or glued-in plugs, etc., the squaring up of mortises to accept traditional tenon forms is an extra and 'unnecessary' step so it will less often be seen in factory-produced pieces.

While a large part of being an artisan is sticking with techniques you believe in, if one is to survive as an operating business, then one has to be clearly seeing the market within which one operates and the perceptions of your customer base. But at the same time, that consumer base, to the extent that it receives advertising from (the predominantly large) furniture manufactures, is being given a particular message which tells them mostly to pay attention to surface details and styling trends, fashion, and so forth, rather than matters pertaining to quality of construction. That is inextricably linked to the fact that, in the sort of society we have here, the reward is for making things that fail in 10~15 years and are replaced. It is by making disposable furniture that the large manufacturers got large in the first place.

Keeping integrity to your craft while operating in a competitive environment which forces you to find ways to differentiate your product from others out there, is a challenge. I think that differentiation would be a far harder challenge, mind you, if I was making the same stuff as all those companies running sheet after sheet through their point-to-point routers, panel saws, optimizing sanders, edgebanders, UV finish lines, etc.... There, all the differentiation has to be made based on some slick and persistent marketing, focussing on a lot of things besides the inherent nature of what it is you are making. Having to go on a 'lean journey' to get your operation as efficient as you can make it to squeeze extra pennies out of production lines - that's tough to do I'm sure. I don't envy their situation at all.

That's it for this time - thanks for dropping by on your travels. Onward to post 6.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Buying and Selling (I)

When I first bought my Toyota Landcruiser in 2006 or thereabouts, I didn't know that much about them, at least at the detail level. Nevertheless, I did what research I could and had at least a little knowledge going in, which, as they say, can be a dangerous thing. It surely was in my case.

I had visited Australia long ago, and while I spent most of my time there along the east coast, still had the impression in my head that the country was mostly a desert. From that impression, and due to the availability of a certain model of diesel-engined Toyota Landcruiser in that market, I felt that a truck from that part of the world wasn't likely to be a rust bucket. Problem with my shallow analysis was that most Australians do not live in the dry interior of the continent, but rather along the coasts. And if a Landcruiser owner lives along the coast, it is highly likely that he/she will have taken their truck along the beach more than a few times. The salt water and sand spray mixture sure does its magic on the sheet metal of those trucks, as one could well imagine if one considered it for a moment.

Despite that misapprehension, I knew enough to ask the seller of the truck, quite directly, if it had been on the beach, and whether it had had much bondo in the body. The seller, in one of his characteristically terse replies, said "no beach, no bondo".

Well, when the truck arrived on Vancouver Island I was some $11,000 in. And upon inspection, it did actually run (the motor turned out to be a basket case in the end), however the floors of the truck seemed to be composed of at least as much roofing patching compound as sheet metal. Not what I wanted to see, and funny enough not something the seller had mentioned in his description of the vehicle. Months later, when I had the truck completely apart, and was turning the body tub over, a cascade of white sand came out from the crevices....

"No beach, no bondo" - heheh, it's almost humorous now to consider the bald-faced nature of that lie. I felt was doing my due-diligence and asking the right sort of questions, but sometimes people just outright lie to you, all for a bit of money. That truck was, in the end, shot from stem to stern and needed extensive rebuild. Not what I imagined when I bought it. I poured a huge amount of money and time into that truck, and it did get me across the continent, with a ton (all my worldly possessions) loaded up. We have some history for sure, most of it positive. I think they are great trucks in general, just wish I'd picked a different one to start with.

I've owned a lot of different older and 'interesting' vehicles in my time, unfortunately some of them of British manufacture from the 1970's, if you know what i mean, and I have been mislead by sellers in many instances, if not all. A pretty girl once, without saying much, easily relieved me of $4000 for a mid-70's Volkswagen Westfalia van which I later named 'the anti-Christ' for its propensity to break down randomly and mysteriously and fall apart. It was good off road, and could carry a decent payload, I'll give it that.

Indeed, it is such a common occurrence in my experience of buying used vehicles that I more or less take it for granted that the seller is lying to some degree in some respect to what they are selling. Maybe it is worst with vehicle sales, though I imagine yacht sales must be kinda similar. This reality hasn't lead me to become hardened and cynical about the process of buying cars or trucks, or made me suspicious of people -  I guess I go in knowing what I know, and have a vague sense of what I don't know, and hope that whatever lays in those unknowns does not come to bite me too hard later on.

When it came time to sell the truck, I was at that classic point - and some readers may be familiar with it, if they are as hopeless at this process as I am - where the vast amount of money invested in building up and restoring the vehicle is not exactly met by what the market will generally pay for the vehicle. And there comes a point where further money simply isn't going to go into the vehicle from my end, no way and no how, and it has to be moved down the line to someone else who will make of the situation what they can. Fresh eyes, fresh dreams, fresh pocketbook.

In the case of my Landcruiser, it was a truck which formed part of a vision about about how my life would unfold. My life however unfolded differently in terms of lifestyle and living situation, and I found myself with a truck I rarely used, which sat and slowly rusted for the most part. It was interesting to own a vehicle which elicited stares and enthusiastic 'thumbs up' signs from passersby, however having 'a real head-turner' was never much of a motivation for me.

Now, my way of doing things when I am the seller is not to pay forward what the previous seller offered to me on the honesty front; rather I do the exact opposite. I will scrupulously describe the vehicle's faults, and will make no effort to whitewash or omit mention of things which are wrong with the vehicle but are not obvious to view. I do this because it is how I would have liked to have been treated when I was the buyer, and for no other reason. I wouldn't want to feel at the end of the transaction that I had hoodwinked anybody. I've been told by people close to me that I am being "too honest" in that respect, but I think that the only way I can right a wrong is by not repeating the same behavior to the next guy. It's a form of idealism on my part, I'll grant you that.

Old Landcruiser trucks, funny enough, attract a similar sort of person as those attracted to Japanese carpentry, or timber framing or other 'olde world' crafts - with the romance lenses planted firmly in front of their eyes. The truck represents something larger, makes a statement about a noble way of life, rugged independence, simplicity and utility, or something like that. I've suffered myself from those tinted lenses many a time. I get it, and am not here to condemn it. Maybe better to have a rosy view from time to time that a bleak one all of the time.

I had tried to sell the truck a few times and had buyers come close, but deals were never closed. I took it off the market and reconsidered options, eventually returning to the same conclusion: the truck had to be sold. I still felt a bit reluctant however. Finally I just got to that point where I - and my wife - were just getting fed up with thinking about the "what are we going to do with the truck?" issue, and put the 'bucket of bolts' back up for sale at what seemed to me a ridiculously low price. Sure enough, I got a flurry of inquiries, and people talking about "running out to get a plane ticket" to come out and see the truck, and little by little these apparently interested buyers fell by the wayside. Some were suspicious that my price was too low. Those that did inquire more seriously were met by my dispassionate account of the truck, pros and cons. Maybe they wanted to be sold a shining vision of a city by the seas, and were put off by the unvarnished nature of my account. I still felt that the truck was an incredible deal - at $12,500 - and yet I still couldn't sell it.

This went on and on and then, in a last-ditch sort of effort, in a 'fuck it' moment, I dropped the price to $10,000.

Again, a flurry of excitement and activity ensued, and I had many long phone calls with various prospective buyers. Soon afterwards, I had the truck sold, received a deposit...then the buyer lost his job. The deal fell through. Then another guy was dead serious, thought about it over the weekend, and changed his mind. Then a fellow from Olympia WA  who could scrape together $9200 was really really keen. He wrote me many emails. He had a dream about coming out and driving the truck back to Washington with his son. I suggested that a drive in a truck which rides like an oxcart when unloaded, is kinda loud, get's warm inside from the drivetrain heat, and has no a/c, driving across the country in the hottest month may not be the pleasure trip he was imagining, but of course it was his choice to do whatever he wanted.

Then it looked like the first buyer might have found a new job, but it wasn't starting for a couple of weeks, and.... finally the second buyer who had changed his mind then changed his mind again and actually flew out from Tennessee and bought the truck. He also came with his son and they made the drive back to TN in 16 hours. When he arrived he wrote me and thanked me for being an honest seller and that the truck performed as I said it would. He seemed happy and that gave me a measure of satisfaction. I can't control what other people do, but I can control what I do. I'm glad he is going to enjoy playing around with the truck and hope he will make good use of it. I was relieved to have moved on frankly, and a little sad to see the truck go of course.

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 I've had similar experiences buying woodworking machinery as I have vehicles. A lot of sellers will lie or misrepresent. There seems to be three species of lie:


  1. The outright, knowing falsehood
  2. The lie by omission
  3. The lie by evasion

And just because people may lie in these instances doesn't make them 'liars' as such - though there have been times in the past where I've asserted just that - simply put, for some reason or another they can't bring themselves to be fully honest when they are selling something. It's a curious thing.

Sure, 'buyer beware' applies, and some would grunt out, as some sort of guiding principle, "there's a sucker born every minute", or, "a fool and his money are soon parted", etc... But I guess the person who came up with that expression in the first place, and those who use it, would have to admit that they too are a sucker, since they were born at some point. I don't really want to look at people in such a light.

I've found people will lie equally as much in person as they will at a distance. When I bought that Delta Rockwell drill press a couple of years back, the seller lives only about half an hour's drive from me. When I came to inspect the machine, I discovered he was a professional machinist by day who also had a home workshop crammed with machinery. It was a neat and tidy place, well organized, and he seemed like a decent friendly fellow. He obviously knew a fair bit about machining and machinery, and I took this to mean that he looked after his equipment well. It seemed a fair assumption at least from what I could observe. When he demonstrated the drill press, he had it set on a really low rpm, however I didn't think much of it as he was a metal guy and metalworking equipment often operates on low rpm, at least compared to a lot of woodworking machines. The seller mentioned that the machine could "probably use new bearings" however he didn't seem too interested in doing the work of replacing the bearings when I asked him about it.

It was only when I got the machine home and moved the belt to a higher speed setting on the stepped pulleys that I discovered the spindle had a fair amount of run out. The run out wasn't apparent at all at 80 rpm, but was very clear at 1200 rpm. The machine probably would have blown itself up if run on the highest possible speeds. I realized I had been fooled by the seller, and not accidentally either. He surely knew about the runout - he'd in fact mentioned it at one point, though immediately downplayed the issue. I called him and mentioned my discovery and he started the usual defensive waffling and equivocating, so no point going further.

Next time I shop for a similar machine, I would know to bring an indicator and check the spindle run out. That's how we learn lessons in that school of hard knocks I guess. It was a $450 purchase, and a couple of weeks back I sold that drill press, as a 'parts machine' being clear with the buyer that the spindle was bent and runout was unacceptable, for $200. So, fair enough, the machine didn't really owe me much if we look at the 3-year ownership as akin to a rental, save for the fact that the service it provided consisted of non-round holes. Grr. My experiences with sourcing parts for the machine also provided me with another lesson: avoid Delta and its products at all costs. I think piece of info alone made it well worth it in fact.

When you are buying a thing you bring your knowledge into it, which may be a little or a lot, depending. If you've had sufficient experience with a particular product before, then you will know exactly what to look at when buying another one, especially if you've had it apart to any degree. You never really know a machine until you take it apart - that's what they say and it is absolutely true. With experience, you'll know to check the weak spots more carefully, can judge whether the machine is complete and operating well, what the scene is like for spare parts, and whether it is fairly priced. If you are not familiar with the exact model, perhaps you are familiar with that class of machine, be it a jointer, or a bandsaw, edge sander, what have you, and have a good idea what to look at, save for those details which are unique to the machine in question. Or, worst case, you have next to no experience with a type of machine, or machinery in general, and will find yourself very much at a disadvantage. All you have to consider then is the general appearance, kinda like looking under the hood of a modern car if you're not an auto mechanic: it just looks like a mass of wires and piping and covers and your eye doesn't know where to look really.

That leaves you then with the vibe you get from the seller. Are they telling you the truth? It's certainly not the best position to be in as a buyer.

I mean, if you don't have an experienced friend to bring in tow to look things over, or at least someone you can talk to on a phone or send pictures to while you're there looking, the options for obtaining knowledge beforehand about what you are looking to buy are otherwise going to come from two places, the internet and the seller's advertisement. We all know what it is like looking on the internet for opinions about pretty much any product. A lot of reviews out there are conflicting and confusing, and for every passionate advocate there seems to be a vehement detractor. You can spend hours researching and at the end be more confused than ever. This is all the more the case when the product in question has been purchased by a lot of people, like, say, a toaster oven or washing machine.

What I've found is a good sign when you're in the position of not knowing much about a machine is how willing the seller is to answer your questions and whether they do so to any degree of depth and candor. Do they point out any negatives, or is it all, apparently, shining and wonderful? Sorry to say for all those guys out there who were brought up on the role model of the 'strong silent type', I find people who are terse in their replies to be a sign that they are probably hiding something. Not always of course, but it's a red flag for me.

My experience recently in purchasing that Zimmermann pattern milling machine was a good one. Even though the sellers had limited English (and I have zero German short of a few words and phrases), we were able to communicate well. They answered all of my questions clearly. I asked them to take a video to prove that everything on the machine worked, along with another video of the spindle run out measured with an indicator. They complied even though they were a little challenged by the process of taking and uploading a video. When I asked them about an electrical wire going nowhere that was visible in one of the pictures, they told me that a lamp was supposed to be mounted there and was missing. I figured that was an easy and minor thing to omit in a description of a large somewhat complicated machine, so I didn't assume they were trying to hide something. In the end, I thought they were great to deal with. I guess I'll know for sure once I have received the machine.

There are still unknowns with this machine, and I'm sure I will learn about them in due time. I've considered the worst case (that the machine will need a full strip down and rebuild) and decided that, for the price, the risk is acceptable.

Of course, it is always best to look at an item in person, but as noted above with the anecdote about the drill press purchase, you can be fooled by seeing a thing right in front of you quite easily, depending upon the sellers propensity for sleight of hand maneuvers. And with the Zimmermann, I strongly suspect that there aren't even any examples of the same machine in the United States to look at, let alone any which are for sale or close enough to look at. A machine in Germany and one in Los Angeles are both long plane flights away, right? So, there's a risk involved no matter what, a certain point where you are taking a chance.

It's just the same really when buying a new item. It may be a lemon from the production line, or maybe everything coming off that production line, despite appearances, is a lemon. It may be from a company that will do next to nothing to support the product once they have sold it to you. It may be from a company that once had an outstanding reputation for great products and after-sales service who was recently acquired by a hedge fund and they are being shredded to the bone for profit taking and product quality has just gone downhill. That new toy you bought for your kids might have lead paint covering it, or the infant formula have melamine mixed in. You think you can trust the entities which inspect and certify things, but sometimes they are compromised and not serving the best interests of the public. There are usually going to be things you don't know whenever you buy something. Risk aversion, I think, is what leads most folks to stick with 'trusted brands', eat at chain restaurants, and so forth.

Anyhow, I've rattled on long enough for one posting. I recently went through another interesting buying process with another woodworking machine, and I'll leave that account for the next post. Thanks for coming by the Carpentry Way.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Elbowing my Way Back

I have been quiet on the blogging front for a while now, and not for any lack of things to say. Maybe more it has been part of the break I have been taking to rest my elbow after the PRP procedure I underwent about 8 weeks ago. The climb back out of the sandpit has been a long and slow one, but in the past week I feel like I have turned a corner and am starting to actually get better. This has been an uplifting situation and I am back, slowly and carefully, to working in the shop. There had been moments in the past few months where I really was wondering if I would ever recover, and whether I might have to look for another path of work. Glad to have dodged that bullet.

It's amazing how much damage to a few square mm on your body can really put a crimp in what you do. Added to the mindfulness of the work itself, is the mindfulness about how I use my left hand in every move - - how I pick up a piece of wood, how I hold a tool, how I pull on something. A moment of inattention and you can set things back in a blink.

I'm thinking that moving forward I need to find ways to reduce the amount of time swinging a mallet as a means of reducing the loading on my outer elbow. I need to do less chopping. So, to that end I have a few ideas and we'll see what develops. I doubt I'll be pounding out mortises too often in the future. I need to find other ways to do the grunt work in that regard.

During the interim I've been spending a lot of time in my garden, and it has been a good summer in that regard. Always good to have ones hands in the dirt - though I have been avoiding using a shovel altogether.

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I've also been shopping for shop equipment, and have some news in that regard. For a while now I have recognized how useful a universal milling machine could be to my work. Problem is, Bridgeport-type milling machines are intended expressly for use on metal, and therefore operate spindles on lower rpms than would be suitable for woodworking. I know some people do use Bridgeports to do some woodwork, and appear to manage okay, but those machines really aren't ideally configured for woodworking. And given that my working of materials other than wood remains but a tiny fraction of what I do, it hasn't made sense to obtain a Bridgeport, even one with a 'high speed' head.

However, it turns out there is a type of universal milling machine which is meant for working wood, known as patternmaker's milling machines. I first saw one of these down on Alameda island in San Francisco at a shop on an old air base, an enormous Oliver. Here's a picture of an early Oliver with a giant amount of 'x' travel:


There was one of these for sale on Ebay in the past year, and the price, IIRC, was north of $10,000. I had an Oliver jointer a few years back, and I wasn't impressed with the build quality, so an Oliver patternmaker's milling machine was not exactly beckoning.

The Oliver was, by all accounts, based on a machine built by Wadkin - in fact, Oliver was licensed to sell Wadkin milling machines in the first decade or two of the 20th century, according to this account.

Wadkin's machine looked like this:



According to Wadkin's site, the company was originally formed for the purpose of making pattern milling machines, in 1897. There certainly aren't many of these machines around today, and in the past couple of years I do not recall seeing any on the market, though I haven't been looking specifically for one.

What I have been looking at specifically is a German-built pattern milling machine, by the company Zimmermann. They made a number of models from tiny machines using the equivalent of a trim router as the spindle drive, to much larger machines. Their largest, latest and greatest machine of this type was the FZ-5V Unimill:



It can be hard to get a sense of scale from a picture like that, so perhaps this photo will be more helpful:


The picture on the left shows a version of the machine with a tracer, so these could be set up as a tracer mill if so desired. The main spindle head is shown on the right-side portion of the picture.

I've long admired Zimmermann machinery- I would be happy having one of everything they make - though that is likely to remain an unfulfilled fantasy at best. For the past couple of years there has been an intriguing version of the Unimill, the FZ-5V, for sale, and I had been keeping an eye on it. Like the tracer mill variant, there are two spindles, however on this FZ-5V the secondary spindle is a high speed spindle, capable of 14,000 rpm. Here's a look at that machine, built in 1971:


The main spindle at front has 16 speeds, going from 56rpm to 4500 rpm. The high speed rear spindle operates at two speeds, 14,000 being the top. From the floor to the top of the main spindle head is about 94" (240cm), and the machine weighs north of 2 tons. Like a lot of quality machinery, the main table is planed and the ways are all scraped. The table is powered on the x and z axes, and also rotates. There is a digital readout, a later add-on and hardly a factory-quality install with the plywood support.

Another view:


That machine was for sale, but it's no longer on the market - - because I just bought it! It is going to be the oldest machine in my shop.

I'd been watching the machine for a couple of years - no serious buyers appeared, so I was lucky - and just last week I sold my Landcruiser truck. I decided I would rather put the money into a nice machine than another automotive money pit. I think this machine will outlast pretty much any vehicle I could buy, and will help me make a bunch of stuff as well. What's wrong with that?

There is no parts support from Zimmermann, however the machine is quite complete and heck, you can even use the machine to make it's own repair parts.

A lot of pattern making in Germany involves milling foam, and I have often come across foam cutters for these mills. I'm hoping that the mill i have purchased spent a lot of time milling foam, as that would mean less wear and tear to be sure. I asked the sellers, Fritz Ernst, to take a couple of videos, one showing that everything worked, and another with a dial indicator showing spindle run out. Run out was very minimal.

This machine runs on 3-phase 380v. 50hz. service, and of course I do not have such service in my shop. I considered at first seeing if the motors could be swapped out for ones which run on my shops supply of 3-phase 208v. 60hz., however only two of the motors could be swapped out. I'm sure with some craft machining, other solutions could be found in that regard however.

Doing more research, it turns out that a critical aspect to motor electrical supply is the design ratio between voltage and frequency for the motors.

380 (volts), divided by 50 (hertz) gives a ratio of 7.6:1

If you have 60hz. supply, and multiply 60 by 7.6, you obtain 454 (volts). So, a supply of 454v/60hz. will be in the same voltage:frequency ratio as 380v/50hz. The main difference will be that of the frequency difference, 60/50 - or 1.2:1, which means that a 50hz. motor run on 60hz. will spin 20% faster. This also means that the motor fan spins 20% faster, so the cooling increases as well. As the machine has no electronics or computer timers, etc., items sensitive to changes of frequency, it should be fine running at 454/60.

I went to look at a Zimmermann lathe in Boston a couple of years back, and the machinery dealer was running that machine, a 380/50 model, on 460/60 just fine, so I feel confident about using a different input voltage and frequency.

As far as a milling machine for wood goes, higher speeds are all good as far as I'm concerned. this means that the total speed range for this machine will be 56x1.2 = 67.2rpm to 14,000x1.2 = 16,800 rpm. The machine is built, according to the manufacturer's brochure, to mill steel and iron as well as other materials. It should prove to be quite versatile.

I need only obtain a step-up transformer converting my 208v. supply to 454v. and I have ordered one from a company in Montreal. I'll need a few other electrical bits of course.

Taking the plunge with the Unimill means I have also obtained a drill press in the bargain, so that enabled me to sell the Delta rockwell radial ram drill press a few weeks back. It had spindle run-out and no parts support - Delta is a crappy company these days - and I was glad to get rid of it. I sold it as a parts machine to a guy in Rhode island who was rebuilding one.

Intending to finish that series I had started on Pittsburgh architecture, along with a new post in the sideboard series, so look for those soon.

All for now, over and out. Thanks for coming by!