Fred Flintstone’s Lathe

Straight from the quarry to your workshop, you too can own the tooling that made Bedrock the stone capital of the world.

Steel City Lathe

Steel City Lathe

That’s right – a granite lathe from Steel City.  Very similar in specs to the Jet, this features a granite bed, so no rusting, and I’d imagine a smooth gliding motion to the tailstock and toolrest positioning.

Furthermore, the weight would be very stabilising, and the material vibration absorbing.  It has quite a long bed for a mini-lathe too, so probably no real need for the extension bed (although I hope that is still an option).  Available in a belt drive or electronic variable speed option.  The standard pricing is around $US320, which is pretty nice, undercutting the Jet by a good $60.  Available from Wood Werks for one (by web search), and at this stage not in Australia.

We can drool as much as we like though – with a granite bed, this lathe ain’t going to rust!

Steel City

I had reason to pop across to the Steel City website, and I guess I haven’t been on there for a long time because the first thing that jumped out of the screen at me was their awesome logo.

steelcitylogoBeing a fan of molten steel, forging, casting, etc, the idea that there is still an industry based around what is a very old material is very appealing. So seeing a logo embodying that very topic has immediate appeal for me!  But it is a cool logo.

Their byline also works on a number of levels: By Woodworkers for Woodworkers.

What I was looking for were the specs on the Granite Angle Gauge, but I’m now wondering if it is so new as to almost be a prototype, as I couldn’t find it on their site.

Shame some of their other tools can’t be sourced in Oz – it would make for a hell of a workshop! (Of course don’t try using MagSwitch technology on their granite topped tools!)

A Slab ‘o Granite

Precision requires precision tools, there is no two ways about it.

Whether it is assuring that your square is square, your plane blades are honed to just the right angle, straight edges are straight etc, it is beneficial to have a true surface to reference off.  Taking that one step further, where it comes to sharpening particularly, if you are relying on a flat surface to create a reference plane (either the surface you use to dress your waterstones for example, or a surface to conduct the Scary-Sharp technique), then you need a surface who’s flatness is assured.

And what better way than a solid slab of granite?  You can get it wet without fear of rusting, it is dimensionally stable through a wide temperature range, and is comparatively inexpensive.

I picked up this tool from Carbatec – a Granite Surface Plate.

Granite Surface Plate

Granite Surface Plate

Measuring 300x230x50mm (12″x9″x2″) and weighing in at around 12kg, the real significance comes in when you look how flat it is.

It comes with a certificate of testing, and in this case, the block has a variance of 0.00008″ (2.1 microns, or 0.0021mm) over 7.5″.  So she’s pretty flat.

Certificate of Testing

Certificate of Testing

It will be featuring in some sharpening episodes in the near future

Granite in Woodworking

I like accuracy. Can’t help it. It’s the engineer in me.

Accuracy includes flatness, and there is a slowly emerging trend of using granite to achieve this, with Steel City producing granite topped tools (such as tablesaws). (Aside – there is also a granite block available for a sharpening station – something I am definitely interested in!)

Steel City are starting to branch out with their use of granite into other areas of woodworking, and one very interesting development is the very unusual (if seeing a granite topped tablesaw isn’t unusual enough!) idea of a granite angle gauge. This is will be available in Australia from Professional Woodworkers Supplies, so if you are interested, definitely get in contact with them, as the initial shipment will only be a limited number of units. I’m not sure the exact cost, but around $55 (give or take $10) would be my guesstimate.

Positive points of the granite angle gauge: very dimensionally stable, even over a wide range of temperature. Accuracy over the life of the tool. And because of the cheapness of granite compared to the cost of an equal thickness of more traditional angle gauge materials, it has significant weight and substance- including being quite stable when free-standing.

Negative points: If you want thin, it isn’t going to be granite! And don’t drop it on a concrete floor. I don’t know how survivable a drop onto a hard surface would be, but I’m not going to try it!!!!

So onto the tool itself.

Storage Case

Storage Case

Subtle – understated.  Just the way I like it for professional tools.

Setting 45 degree stop

Setting 45 degree stop

So here ’tis.  A chunk of accurately machined granite, with a 90 degree and 45 degree angle.  Although it is very thick (which makes free standing a breeze), the edges are tapered to only a few mm, so it is narrow enough to fit easily between the carbide teeth so the angle is against the meat of the blade as it should be.  The thickness also helps, so you can really see when the gap between the gauge and the blade disappears.

Top view

Top view

Setting 90 degree stop

Setting 90 degree stop

When I first placed the gauge against the blade at 90 degrees, there was a gap that shouldn’t have been there.  Strange thought I, so I compared the granite gauge to my other squares.  They seemed fine, so back to the saw, and it was that my stop wasn’t as accurately set to 90 degrees as I would want.  I then used the other squares to compare, and the gap was discernible, but it was really obvious with the granite gauge.

It was then adjusting the stop that I really began to appreciate that it was free-standing, as it freed up a hand to work on the blade angle stop, or wind the blade angle wheel to get back to exactly 90 degrees.

The gauge isn’t something that you’d use on a day to day basis in your woodworking, but knowing you have such an accurate reference for your other gauges and squares, and for setting up your tools is definitely an asset.

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