Blast from the Past – Cool Tools

Came across the video from when I headed over to Denver to appear on Cool Tools, demonstrating the Torque Workcentre.  Wasn’t that long ago in years, but it was a lot of grey hairs ago that is for sure!

Blast from the Past

Came across the Torque Workcentre segment I did on Cool Tools in Denver a few years back.

Those were the days!

A Cool Nova Tool

For regular followers, you will remember my little jaunt over to the land of the red, white and blue, to Denver Colorado to appear on Cool Tools.  Haven’t forgotten the experience, from the flight on the A380 to getting around Denver, being on the show, meeting and working with Chris Grundy, visiting Rockler, and, well, the whole experience.

It all jumped back in mind when I was reading up about a tool sitting out in the shed, and heard it was about to be featured on….Cool Tools!

The tool in question: the Nova Comet II midi lathe, from Teknatool.

Nova Comet II

It is a very interesting addition to the midi lineup, and simply based on name, it has quite a pedigree.

There are a few other lathes in the same niche, so lets pull them all out, dust them off and see what we have here.

Jet Midi, Variable Speed

Jet Midi, Variable Speed

Carbatec Midi, Variable Speed

Carbatec Midi, Variable Speed

There are others, but these are the ones I have some familiarity with.

Must admit, I didn’t have variable speed on a lathe until I got my DVR.  My old Jet midi lathe didn’t have the feature.  Variable speed is pretty cool, and means you can quickly change the speed to suit what you are doing at the time, rather than stopping to change the belts (or simply ignoring the speed isn’t ideal, mores the point!)

Both the Jet and the Carbatec have the variable speed tacked onto the side, as if the lathe was designed without and on certain machines they get the upgrade.  For both the Jet and Carbatec, this is pretty much the case.

The Comet has it designed to be much more integrally part of the lathe from the outset.  This may just be an aesthetic, but it also means there isn’t a speed control box sticking out the side.  Dust does build up, and objects do fall or hit things that are sticking out.

While we are looking at it, some other specs, side by side

Specification Comet II Jet Carbatec
Price $639 $849 $799
Speed 250 – 4000 200 – 4300 250 – 3600
Swing over bed 300mm 304mm 355mm
Distance between Centres 419mm 510mm 430mm
Reverse Yes No No
Weight 32kg 45kg 39kg

All have 3/4HP motors, indexing heads

So in the first rounds, the Comet II really is holding its own.  Especially given the price.

There are some aspects that do come in though, and this is probably price-related.  I like cams on the various movable items, and although it is only the tailstock, I would have preferred it to have been a cam.

Although the finish on all user areas is good, there are some rough castings underneath.  The foundry really needs to invest in an angle grinder.  It wouldn’t have been hard to tidy up the casting a bit more underneath.

Toolless access to the belt drive.

Other than those points, there are some distinct advantages too!

Reversible. The other lathes can’t run backwards! (Correct me if I am wrong (update – the Carbatec does))
Excellent access to the belt drive – much better than either of the others.
Ability to add accessories, such as a grinder (for sharpening chisels during turning)

It may be a bit lighter (weight is a bonus for lathes), but not too much so, and it does make it more transportable.

I’ll revisit the accessories when they arrive, but the concept is very interesting!

When I have a chance to really put the lathe through its paces, I will feed those experiences back.  The initial testing didn’t reveal any issues.

So a very promising addition to the lineup, and at a rather cost-competitive price point!  You can afford to add a Nova G3 chuck and still be ahead.  Don’t forget, the 4 jaw self-centering chuck which is now the standard for wood turners was invented by Teknatool.

Visiting the (Rockler) Candy Store

I have thrown a bunch of photos into a YouTube video (SSYTC23), as it seemed I had more than was reasonable to fit in an article.  If you watch the higher res version, the photos should look pretty clear.

Got there reasonably early – one of the regulars here (Ken) picked me up which was appreciated! We met up with the Assistant Manager, Curt, who kindly gave us a comprehensive look around Rockler, Denver

Stu visits Rockler!

The store had quite a few people shopping the whole time we were there, and the fact that Denver is significantly smaller than Melbourne (about 4 million for Melbourne, 2.5 million for Denver) it goes to show quite a difference in the sorts of stores the two cities potentially can support.

The big differences are on a number of approaches.  Rocker (Denver) has a significant training facility downstairs, which is regularly used for club meetings and training events.  They have a separate training room and lecture room, so the place can handle some pretty significant course and meeting events.

Lecture-style area

Training Room

The Training room had a 1/2 dozen or so of those Jet lathes you can see to the right, and has courses on all sorts of topics, including finishing, pen making, bandsawn boxes, carpentry and cabinetry.

A couple of days before I arrived, they had a presentation by the inventor of the CNC Shark – that would have been an interesting one!

Belt Sander Racing

I spotted this in one of the rooms downstairs, and apparently it gets used reasonably regularly – the belt sander racing track (and Rockler’s entry to the races).  The track is stacked in sections if that makes it clearer.  If the US can do it, surely we could have a belt sanding racing league down under?  Think it’d be great as a carpark event at a store as Rockler do, and/or at the wood shows!

Sailing to the Temptation Isles

Upstairs there is an amazing assortment of product lines, and a strong emphasis on the smaller items – there were no large tools on display, and it was more consumables, jigs, jig creating hardware, project hardware etc.  A massive router bit collection, and the new quadra-cut router bits from Freud.  These are quite interesting in that they have 2 main cutters, at a positive rake angle, then 2 minor (much smaller) blades at a negative rake, to remove any feathering that occurs when routing cross-grain.  These blades are much smaller, as you don’t need the treatment over the whole cut area, only where the feathering is most likely to occur.

Timber Collection

There was a wide assortment of interesting and exotic timbers, and a massive range of pen blanks.

Rocker also sell Festool, although strangely I couldn’t buy any 4mm dominos – they were withdrawn from sale at the store for a lack of sales, so not sure what Denver woodworkers who want to use 4mm dominos are expected to do!

Pen Turning Heaven

A few bits n pieces

So that is a quick look around the Rockler store – sorry to all those in Oz who are now cursing me getting to one!

And finally (or firstly), at the entrance to the store, we have just a small collection of

Bench Cookies!

So that is a quick look around the store – don’t forget to check out SSYTC23 for more photos.

I’ll talk about what I was tempted by in the next article!  You can see the online Rockler store here, and by using this link to the store, you are also supporting Stu’s Shed (cool huh 🙂 )

So a big thanks to Curt (and Rich whom I didn’t get to meet), and my ‘driver’, Ken

Denver 3, and Community Woodworking

A busy afternoon, doing the first part of why I am over here – putting the Torque Workcentre together, ready for tomorrow’s shoot.  Met up with one of the Associate Producers from Cool Tools – Darin Foat.  Cool guy.

Headed first to Bunnings, I mean Home Depot (could hardly tell the difference on the inside – they look quite different, but similar concept it seems), and bought an MDF sheet as a top for the TWC, and a sheet of ply for some stuff tomorrow, and some other lengths of timber.

Next, with some time to kill, we headed over to grab a drink, and I found some (old) snow.  Decided not to do the angel thing – bit too cold to be soaked through for the rest of the afternoon!

A little snow

Snow is kinda handy for some things though:

Drink on the Rocks

No need for a Cooltainer here!

Got into the workshop to begin setting up, meeting with Stephen and Joshua.  Joshua as it turned out occasionally happens to read Stu’s Shed, so did a really big double take when he saw the logo on my shirt – that was pretty cool as well.

Now I can’t really go much further without talking about the workshop itself, and it is really worth discussing.  Over in Australia, there has been a real groundswell with the concept of Men’s Sheds.  In Oz, there are now over 400 sheds, involving 30,000+ participants, although even that seems hard to determine – there seems to be a bit of a head-to-head between a couple of organisations looking to oversee and manage the various Men’s Sheds.

The scale of it in Australia hasn’t arrived in the US, but there are apparently a few community-style woodworking clubs springing up.  What Stephen and Joshua have created, from the ground up and completely unfunded (other than membership)/unsponsored is a woodworking workshop for the community, called “Community Woodworking“.  A not-for profit, hands-on woodworking club, and their efforts have to really be commended.  They have been adding to the workshop as their funds permit – you have to love the sense of community that is being shown – I take my hat off to them (but put it back on pretty smart – it is still cold 🙂 )

They do have to charge for membership – covering the costs of running the place (but we are only talking $20/month, + $8/hr – check out their club membership page for more info) You can also take out a life membership. It is not-for-profit after all.

They have a range of machines ready for members – jointer, planer, tablesaw, a couple of bandsaws, buzzsaw (mitre saw), drill press, and a wall of ready-access handtools.  They even had a Triton Woodrack 🙂  They seem pretty happy we are there too, according to their blog.

I’ll try to get some photos of the place tomorrow – was focusing on the TWC assembly today.

Almost forgot, Steve showed me one project that he’s working on – the handgrip for a Colt45 (think Dirty Harry) (correction – it is a Ruger Super Blackhawk chambered for .44 Magnum).  It almost seems to be something that gets a lot of people into woodworking in one form or another.  Rifle stocks too are typically wood, and it is something a lot of owners take great pride in, especially if they make it themselves.  From an engineering perspective, the Ruger is very impressive in its simplicity of design.  I’ll hopefully get some photos tomorrow (again, was working against the clock today). (BTW, sorry, but not interested in the whole pro/anti gun thing).

The workbench went together easily – I still have some fine-tuning to go through, but even so I managed to cut a circle, do some copy work of a sign, and surface some vermilion – a very red timber which looks great surfaced, and created a really red sawdust.

Tomorrow is the real day. Early start, then a full 1/2 day of filming, then get to see the rest of the show being created.  Hope to take some photos, both of the workshop, and the shoot.  I probably won’t be able to show the photos directly of the shoot until after the show goes to air. C’est la vie!

Denver 2

Had a morning wander around the streets of Denver – the air has an honest cold feel to it which I am enjoying.  Seeing the occasional snowplow-enabled vehicle reminds you of what the environment could throw at the city, and even last night one was driving along salting the streets.


Found a charismatic bookstore called “The Tattered Cover”, with creaking wooden floors and a wide selection.  Seems a popular place for people to go for a coffee, chat and read.  Picked up a copy of “American Woodworker” magazine – had to get something thematic to woodworking!

Denver 1

Well I made it – a total of 26 hours straight travel, from the moment I left my house, to arriving at the Hotel Monaco where I am staying.  All up, a very pleasant trip, except for one notable exception.

Met a really nice young (born in 1988!) couple on the plane (Scott and Lauren (I think – sorry guys, my brain was a bit fried by the end of the flight for optimum recall!)) who were off on their overseas adventure (New York, Las Vegas, LA).  (I feel sorry for them though- after what was to come, I can guarantee they will not have made their connecting flight).  That was the first haul, on a Qantas A380-800.  Tight space, but no worse than any other cattle-class.  Very nice plane, and exceptional service.  Each seat has its own screen which links into a computer entertainment system, so there were games, news, info about destinations, lots of TV shows, and a stack of movies.

Got through The Hurt Locker, Zombieland and District 9, then a bit of Carl Barron and The Young Ones.

The coastline of California is unbelievable from the air – rugged, mountains next to the sea, then the flat expanse of LA.  I’ve been here there a few times, but it’s always interesting to see things afresh.  Caught a sight of the Hollywood sign, still advertising Hollywood Heights as a real-estate ploy to generate sales (and then adopted to be a more permanent fixture).

LAX – what can I say?  Immigration was ok, considering the size of the airline (550 passengers), and I happened to get bumped to a short queue -right place, right time.  Customs was non-existent compared to Australia – I was absolutely amazed.  I know they have to process 1000s of people, but such a minimal border security?

Domestic travel is another matter entirely.  United out of LAX is worse (a lot worse) than all those shows about budget airlines.  100s of people queuing up to use 30+ self-service terminals (no manned check-in) and 3 or so completely disinterested people walking up and down the line processing someone every now and again (at least the young girl in my section was like that – I don’t know how to adequately express the level of customer disservice – seriously unbelievable).

I ended up (after trying myself, getting confirmed, but not having the machine print a boarding pass or baggage check-in barcode) getting myself to a ‘special needs’ line.  This one took about 1hr to process 1 person.  By the time I actually managed to check in, and get a boarding pass, my ‘allowance’ of 3 hours had 10 minutes remaining before I would have not been able to check in at all.  I really started to think I would be stuck in LAX, waiting to Wednesday for my flight back to Oz – it is that bad.  People were missing flights left, right and centre, all because of a complete and total failure of customer service.  I honestly feel pity for anyone who has to use this service in future.  Personally, if I never return to LAX, (specifically to transfer to another airline), I will not be disappointed.  I do have to return through there, but that will be (hopefully) different, going in the other direction.

Security was next, and another unbelievably long queue moving impossibly slowly.  Security themselves are very good, and the front person deserves a lot of kudos.  They are completely under-resourced for the number of people they are expected to process.

So finally, having negotiated what would easily be my worst airport experience ever (thanks United), I got to Denver, and surprisingly, my bag arrived as well.

Denver airport is also huge, and at first impression, very efficiently arranged, with a train taking people around, including to baggage handling.

Local Hero

Where you board the train, there is an astronaut (statue) to greet you – we are definitely in the USA!

Ski Carousel

You know you are near the Rockies, and a major ski centre when the airport has a dedicated ski carousel!

Got to the hotel (Hotel Monaco), very nice room/experience so far, and after that amount of travel, the shower was mandatory!

Headed out for a wander around at dusk, just as some flakes of snow fell – tick that box (although I want MORE!)  Beautiful city so far.  Very clean and well presented – the buildings are really nicely illuminated at night, and use quite a bit of red, which is quite different from what I’ve seen elsewhere.

Non-blurry shot

Didn’t get any non-blurry shots (yet).  And manholes pouring steam out into the street that the cars drive though – such an amazing scene – you see it on the movies, but it is another thing entirely standing next to a manhole with steam bellowing out (-2C around here).

So that is the first part of the journey – tomorrow I meet up with some from Cool Tools and we head over to where the filming will happen on Tuesday so I can assemble the Torque Workcentre.

Oh, and I managed to tick another box, after 10 long years, I got to have another meal at Taco Bell, and it was good 🙂

Taco Bell

12 Hours

About now, in 12 hours time I will be sitting in my seat on a Qantas A380-800 taking off for LA.  The adventure begins! 14 hours in the air to LA, about 3 1/2 hours on the ground, then 2 1/2 hours to Denver.  Hope there is some snow on the ground, and more-so, hope to see some falling.  Closest I have come in my memory is sleet in London. (I have actually been to Denver, lived there a couple of years, from the age of 0 to 2! (No, I wasn’t born there, but it was a close thing!) I can actually still remember my Father cycling to work, through snow that looks to be 8″ deep or more (I was standing at the front gate) Apparently some days he’d cycle to work in -15 degrees C (loon! 😉 ))

I know it isn’t a big deal, bit it still seems kind of cool to be arriving in Denver with all that travel time, only 2 hours after I left Melbourne (does that mean I became slightly younger?  Or just that I aged slower!)

Monday afternoon I am heading off with one of the Cool Tools gang to assemble the Torque Workcentre, getting it all up and running nicely ready for the following day.  Apparently a Home Depot is right across the road (damn 😉 )

Tuesday is an early start (home my bodyclock is a bit adjusted by then!) with a full morning of filming the Torque, with Chris Grundy (he normally isn’t on-location, but apparently this is an exception).  I get to relax in the afternoon, as the Cool Tools gang film the rest of the episode content, which will be good to see too.

The Torque Workcentre itself will get picked up after the shoot and is heading down to Texas.  (Hmm – missed opportunity – should have seen if the Texan could source me a genuine cowboy hat!)

The next day is all about Rockler.  Meeting up with one of the regulars here (Ken, who makes mind-puzzles – you can follow his work through his website “No Piece Left Behind“.  Have to ask him what he means by the name, presumably based on the fact that his puzzles are typically made up of numerous pieces of timber, native and exotic.  I also like to substitute something more specific for the word “piece” – ‘No brain cell left behind’), and he has kindly offered to drive us to the Rockler store in Denver, about 12 mins from where I am staying.  Hope he brings a crowbar, otherwise I will miss my flight later in the day! I’ve tried to ensure I have some extra capacity in my baggage weight allowance, but I fear it will not be enough!

Get to the airport mid-afternoon, and again begin the 21 or so hour journey back to the land down under, “Where women glow and the men plunder.  Do you hear, do you hear the thunder? You better run, you better take cover” (Men at Work lyrics)

While in Denver, I still am expecting to be able to keep this site up to date with what is going on, so watch out for that.  There will be larger than normal gaps in transmission – don’t think you can be a mile-high blogger! (Although while in Denver I guess I will be, seeing as Denver is at an altitude of a mile up!)

What the?

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