It came from Cyberspace

Now I am going to take a small amount of credit for this, not a lot but just a little. So in doing so, I also hope that it works out as well – the peril of enthusiasm!

Last time I spoke with the editors of Australian Wood Review, in particular about their archiving to DVD of previous issues, I strongly encouraged them to consider getting their magazine into the App store, and onto the Newsstand. (And to go and buy an iPad for themselves!) And guess what? They have!

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For an individual issue price of $5, or an annual subscription of $17, you can have the Wood Review downloaded directly to your iPad.

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And it is very cool. You can get issue 68 for free as a trial, which I did (and then subscribed anyway!). Flicked through a few pages, and found my own mug staring back at me from an article I had forgotten I had written.

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You can read it in portrait mode (page at a time), or landscape which looks more like the original magazine layout, depending on your eyesight. Of course, it is on an iPad, so multifinger swipes, zoom etc is all possible.

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So for a look, head to the App store, download the free app for Wood Review, and then preview any issues you want to purchase, download the free trial issue, and subscribe if inspired. (For pocket change I found resistance was futile!)

http://itunes.com/apps/woodreview

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Does C.N.C. actually spell the death of fine woodworking?

I was sent an interesting link to an article today about whether CNC machines were ready for fine woodworking. It got me thinking about another technological advance that occurred a few years ago, that lead to many a heated argument in magazines (the internet was around, but a lot less prevalent at the time), in club meetings, between those most passionate about their pursuit. More on that shortly.

The current situation that is still in its infancy is the rapidly increasing impact of CNC machines in the home workshop. Once, home CNC machines were reserved for the very small number of highly technically competent individuals who could take a bunch of parts from scanners, photocopiers, printers and electronic supply stores and create their own machine. Increasingly, commercially produced machines are becoming cheap enough (and are being targeted to) the backyard workshop.

Some, such as the CarveWright that I came across a little over a year ago look like glorified printers, and can be operated as easily to produce stunning results.

CarveWright

Another, the CNC Shark (and CNC Shark Pro) are at a price point that can be considered, and again are easily controlled from a home computer with some pretty simple software.

CNC Shark

So what is the impact of such machines, so easy to operate, on the future of fine woodworking? Will they mean that anyone with a bit of cash available will be able to produce works to rival the most skilled carvers, who have honed their skills over decades, even over generations? Will they make the years of honing fine woodworking skills simply a waste of time? Or are they just another tool in a capable workshop, able to take the focus off some mundane tasks allowing more time for the woodworker to really produce beautiful works?

Back to that previous digital technology that caused such incredible amounts of anxiety and concern amongst another group. Photographers.

Back in the late 90s (actually for about the whole of the 90s), I was heavily involved in photography, and particularly competition photography (and I wasn’t too bad at it either, if I can say that). I was awarded Associateship of the Photographic Society of New Zealand in 1999, and even then the discussions had started in earnest. Digital photography was coming, and it was going to be a tsunami that was going to sweep all traditions away in the fury. At the time, we were submitting competition entries in prints, or slides (transparencies) and those who could afford to used slides that were then printed in Cibachrome (among others) producing incredible prints. Many, many (many!) hours were spent in darkrooms, developing films, producing prints, making multigrade prints, split tone printing processes. The image was king, and you’d dedicate entire days to achieving the one perfect print of an image.

Digital photography threatened all that, and even though initially the cameras had low resolution, small colour gamuts, and a very poor ability to get the image out of the computer, it was coming, and being IT, coming fast. Even now, cameras have leapt from 3 to 5, to 6, to 8, 10, 12 megapixel in consumer models, and yet Adobe are already preparing Photoshop to be able to handle the first generation of the gigabit cameras that are just around the corner.

The concern was, with the introduction of digital cameras, and digital (computer) ‘darkrooms’, everyone will be able to produce images indistinguishable from highly skilled traditional (chemical) photographers, and years of skill will be swept aside, not by the masses, but by a few very skilled programmers putting these amazing programs in their hands, and on their computers.

And yes, to a certain extent this is exactly what happened. It can be argued that a skilled/talented photographer will be able to take the same tools to a much higher level, but significant numbers of photographic enthusiasts were swept up, overtaken by the digital age. Around 2001 I begun the transition to digital, first scanning images in from film and then working in the digital darkroom that is Photoshop. By 2005, my film cameras were retired, replaced with a digital SLR, the chemical darkroom (including a $1000 colour enlarger) sold.

LPL C7700 Colour Enlarger

I don’t think my photographic passion survived – it is a ghost of its former self, and I lament the loss. Perhaps that is why I have poured so much energy into woodworking – a return to “doing things for ones-self”, instead of watching a print slowly emerge in the chemical bath, I watch a piece of timber slowly transformed into something with aesthetic appeal.

So now, as CNC machines are becoming mainstream, will they also prove to be the death of the passion for many woodworkers, or is there a fundamental difference?

As I see the development of CNC machines, they are going to become increasingly common (although perhaps not as much as retailers of these machines would dream of), they, I believe, are destined to become another tool in the workshop, not the only one. A CNC machine will work cooperatively, symbiotically with the other tools in the workshop, and not like what happened with digital photography, replacing the old technology completely.

But it won’t be completely without pain, or feelings of immense threat to some who have worked so hard to become as skilled as they are. The furniture, such as seen in the Fine Woodworking article will raise eyebrows, and result in many discussions. Woodworking competitions particularly – will a piece that incorporates CNC machining be allowed to compete alongside more traditionally produced items?

I look in my workshop, and consider what would be the implications for me (personally) if I added a CNC machine? I see no change out there – a CNC would become another tool available, replacing none of the ones already there. It would increase what the workshop could produce though, and some projects may be completed in new ways because of a CNC machine being available. But woodworking as a whole is still safe – it is still too much of a tactile pursuit to have all direct interaction with raw materials handed over to a computer controlled machine. Traditional (non electrically powered) woodworkers (dark siders) would argue that interaction was lost years ago with the introduction of power tools.

So would I welcome a CNC machine into my workshop? Absolutely! But don’t expect me to give up a single other tool already out there – they all have their particular strengths, and every one complements every other. A CNC machine would do the same.

Slippery When Wet

Warping when moist, cracking when dry. Timber is a tempermental beast at the best of times.

A ways back I did think it was a good idea to have a better visibility of what was happening with some of the different pieces I had harvested, or collected. If too green or moist, there would be significant amounts of movement as it dried, and potential cracking. I tried a couple of moisture detectors out but I was either unhappy with their performance, or price. So it was very cool when I got my hands on a new one that is (or about to become) available through Carbatec.

It is still a pinned detector (with 2 probes that get pushed into the timber), so that puts it at the lower end for cost, but with a very nice LCD display, and two calibration checking circuits built into the cap it means you can feel a lot more confident in the readings that you get.

I’ve already found cause to use it a couple of times already- taking new stock of unknown condition and finding out if it is stable enough to use, so like a number of other small tools around the shop it is going to prove to be invaluable.

Fitting the Wixey Remote Readout to the UniLift

The UniLift precisely controls the height of your router bit, and by using a rule, or digital height scale you can get the height set very accurately, and also to change from one to the next.   To take it to the next level, you can also fit a digital height gauge with remote readout directly to the UniLift.  The Wixey Remote Readout can be used in other applications – wherever you have a linear motion (max 125mm) and want to have the position remotely displayed, to 0.5mm.

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Moving bracket

The first thing I did was determine where the unit was going to fit, given the specific router I have, and that I want to be able to remove and replace the entire lift with readout attached.  I fitted the bracket in a hole that is predrilled for this purpose, then bent it to the angle I required.

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Isolating Screws

The Triton router is quite electronically noisy, and as it has been found to cause some interference with the Wixey digital readouts, it is necessary to electrically isolate the mechanism from the router.  Plastic bolts, nuts and washers are provided for this.

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Wixey Sensor Fitted

I drilled a partial-depth hole into the underside of the router plate, and fitted the electronic rule (the green circuit board), and screwed the moving sensor to the bracket.  Now all that was needed was to plug in the Cat5 cable from the remote readout, and I had precise, digitally accurate relative height measurement for the router.

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Ultimate Table Upgrade Components

So here are the components I’ve added to continue the router table upgrade (shown in the tablesaw mount – I’ll wait for the Torque Workcentre fitting before inserting the plate into my recently machined cast iron router top).  It consists of the Woodpeckers UniLift, Wixey Digital Remote Readout, and the Pro Router Switch all from Professional Woodworkers Supplies.  The switch is a no-volt release 10A switch (so it doesn’t automatically turn back on after a power outage), with illuminated lights for the on and off switches.

 

Battery Longevity

I have, as you might have gathered, I have a number of Wixey Digital products (from PWS) in my shed, from the Angle Gauge that resides in my shop apron, to the digital height gauge, calipers, planer gauge, tablesaw gauge etc etc!

Wixey Digital Height Gauge

Wixey Digital Height Gauge

The problem I have been having recently, is given they are all around the same age they all seem to have a flat battery around the same time, and when you are going to use an item, that can get a bit frustrating especially if you haven’t used it much.

Mentioned it to a friend, and he pointed out that I may not have been using them correctly – at the end of the day when I have fully finished using the digital readouts, instead of clicking the off button, I should in fact hold it down for around 6 seconds or so.  What I wasn’t aware of (probably from not reading the manual), is if you just press the off button, that sends the screen to sleep, but doesn’t in fact turn the device off.  By holding the power button down until the display shows – – – – before switching off, fully turns off the device (and thus stops the slow battery drain I was experiencing).

I’m not sure how this might affect the planer height gauge – it might need to be re-zeroed when you turn it on, so I might not do it for that gauge, but for the rest (including the saw gauge), I have to regularly zero them anyway (each time I change blades for example), and it is such a simple step that I do anyway that this isn’t going to negatively impact on my work practices (and will instead improve them, as the gauges will be ready to go when I need them, and not flat!)

This is not a peculiarity of Wixey products either, it will be the case for other digital readouts as well.

One day, when the next generation of devices comes around with fully wireless charging, it will cease to be an issue – you’ll just leave the device sitting on the recharging mat until the next time you want it, but until then, this might be a useful trick to know.

SSYTC003 Wixey Digital Calipers

SSYTC003 Wixey Digital Calipers

Short promo developed for the Wixey Digital Calipers

Router Table Digital Height Readout

At the Melbourne show, on the Professional Woodworkers Supplies stand, you will be able to see a prototype of the latest Wixey digital device, which gives you a remote readout for the router bit height on a router table.  Basically, it connects to the table, and as you change the height, the readout gives you the setting, to within 1/10mm.  The scale however is not directly on the device- it is connected to some Cat5 cable (ie ethernet/network cable) so you can position the readout somewhere that is convenient for you to see.

It will currently be fitted to the UniLift, which is what (as I understand) is the sort of router lift it was originally designed to work with (although not specifically the UniLift, so we’ve been brainstorming on the neatest solution for that).  Now, the idea that was arrived at has a massive implication, and I have been looking closely at it today.

As far as I can tell, it should be relatively easy to have this unit fitted directly to a Triton router.

A Triton router with a remote digital height readout, accurate to 1/10mm!  Think about setting up for a job – insert router bit (such as a dovetail bit), zero the scale, then wind the bit to EXACTLY the right height as determined from a previous job, and start routing.  Repeatability, and ease of setup.

Anyway, that’s what I have been working on in my head this morning – thought I’d share it with you.

iPhone / iPod Touch as a Woodworking Tool

The iPhone 2.0 software upgrade allows applications to be downloaded and run on the iPhone and iPod Touch. Quite a number of these use the device’s accelerometer to varying degrees of success. They certainly provide a new twist on interactions with the device (he he – sorry).

There are a couple of programs out already allowing the device to be used as a spirit level, and hopefully soon there will be one that acts as a digital one, and the device then could be as useful as the Wixey Digital Angle Gauge. The programs that provide this functionality are free, and actually work surprisingly well.

(Update – another one I downloaded (free) since has just that – a digital reading as well as the spirit level.)

Although I’ve mocked this image up, the screen shot of the program is the actual one provided by the programmers, and this isn’t April 1.

(It’s obviously a mock, as on my device, the lower bubble is at the top of the gauge when it is in that orientation.  It is surprisingly responsive, but perhaps these days not so surprising – technology is just a little mind blowing!)

iPhone & Spirit Level Program

iPhone & Spirit Level Program

Wixey Saw Fence Digital Readout

I finally had a chance to get this mounted to the tablesaw, and it was a lot easier than I was imagining.

Like the other items in the Wixey range, it comes from Professional Woodworkers Supplies, and cost just under $260.

Wixey Saw Fence Digital Readout

Wixey Saw Fence Digital Readout

It looks a little daunting when you first open it – lots of small components makes it look like a real jigsaw (as in puzzle), but if you follow through the instructions, it is very straight forward.

The concept is clever in its simplicity – a digital readout (that attaches magnetically to the fence) that runs up and down an auxiliary track, which has a conductive strip attached so the readout can determine its position (or more precisely, change in position). It is accurate to 0.1mm, typical of the Wixey range, which is pretty impressive for a table saw fence.

The first step is to join the two sections of the auxiliary track together.

Dovetail Joiner

Dovetail Joiner

It is joined securely with this dovetail joiner. The joint is important, as once the conductive strip is attached, it would wreck the accuracy if the joint separated at all.

Attaching Conductive Strip

Attaching Conductive Strip

The conductive strip has an adhesive backing. First one side is attached…..

Attaching 2nd Conductive Strip

Attaching 2nd Conductive Strip

Then the other side. A temporary positioner is supplied to ensure the two strips are attached an accurate distance from each other. Note the orientation of the strips – it is important that they are not mounted upside down.

Brackets & Rail Attached

Brackets & Rail Attached

The brackets are then attached to the underside of the original fence rail. There is a specific distance that it is meant to be set, and this is normally done with this rail removed, but I couldn’t be bothered – removing the rail seemed like too much work, and unnecessary.

I also found that when I measured where the brackets were meant to be mounted, they ended up flush against the rail support, so that is where I mounted them. They attach using a thread-cutting bolt (supplied), by drilling a pilot hole with a drill bit (also supplied).

Thread Cutting Bolt

Thread Cutting Bolt

As you might be able to tell from the photo, the bolt is actually triangular. It is a little hard to get it started in the hole, but once it is cutting in, it tightens up well. The small ones suppled, to hold the magnetic plate for the digital gauge were not made from a high-enough tensile steel, as both sheared off before they held the bracket tightly. This is (still) causing me a bit of a problem, as they are small, and hard so are proving too difficult to extract. I don’t believe it was an operator error, overtightening the bolt, as they both sheared while the bracket was still very loose.

Conductive Strip Attached

Auxiliary Rail Attached

This is the rail in position, almost ready to be commissioned. I have placed the gauge to the left of the fence as per the instructions to maximise the amount it can read to the right of the blade, but I am debating whether to swap it to the other side. In use, the gauge gets covered in sawdust in its current location. (In the photo, the gauge is not magnetically attached to the fence as yet).

Fence Gauge in Position

Fence Gauge in Position

The digital gauge in position, ready for use. The first couple of uses showed just how invaluable it is going to be – being able to accurately set the fence to a position with incredible accuracy, and be able to move it away, then bring it back to the same location.

The Quest for Accuracy

I’m not sure what it is that is driving me to seek ever increasing degrees of accuracy in my tools. Is it because I need everything to work perfectly to counteract my lack of skill and/or practice? Is it because I’m an engineer (in mind if not by vocation)? Or do I secretly wish I was working with steel rather than wood? Perhaps I’m just a bit AR (and if you don’t know what the acronym is – Google it…..add “freud” (no, not the blade!!))

Irrespective of the cause, I do like accurate tools, and gauges etc. I’ll do a full expose’ in an upcoming video, but have thrown a few things together here:

Precision Measuring Tools

From the left side, heading clockwise, is a digital protractor (accurate to 1/10 degree), digital angle gauge (also 1/10 degree), the Woodpeckers Saw Gauge (accurate to 1/1000″, or 0.02mm), a digital height gauge (0.1mm), Incra rule (0.1mm), and Incra square. In addition, there is the Wixey Digital Fence Gauge, and of course the tablesaw itself is part of the picture (figuratively and literally), and that is also deliberate. No point having accurate measurements if the tools themselves are not part of the equation.

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