Picking up a slab

In many sheds (and parties, and sports clubs) down under, that’d raise connotations of an end of the productive side of the day, and the cracking of a few favourite beverages is about to commence.  But for woodworkers, there is also the possibility that it means just that – the acquisition of a large flat slice of timber, usually cut by someone else who has more specialised toys than in the average shed.

However, if you own (or are considering) the Torque Workcentre, it is not out of reach, as the slabbing attachment gives the typical workshop the ability to claim very useable timbers from the very trees in which it grows.

The attachment has 2 main parts – two clamps that attach to the main arm on the TWC, and securely clamp a chainsaw between them.  About 4″ of the chainsaw bar length is lost in this, so a 16″ chainsaw can slab a maximum width of 12″.  The bigger the chainsaw, the more powerful the motor, the larger the slab you can manage.

There is a block on either side of the bar (narrower than the width of the bar, so as not to touch the chainsaw teeth) that hold the chainsaw firm, and with one at either end of the bar, it is locked in tight.

The position is probably different from chainsaw to chainsaw, but a hole through to, or scalloped out area near the chainsaw would be useful so blade adjustments can be done without the need to remove the chainsaw from the jig.

I’d also like to see some form of oil reservoir mounted above the chain with a controllable feed rate, as the normal chain lubrication method being gravity fed is rather ineffective with the chainsaw perpetually on its side.  However, these are all refinements to the basic operation.

I started with a lump of camphor laurel (yes, oh Roving Reporter, THE lump of CL – you’ll have to find an alternate seat!) that I picked up for $10 a couple of years ago, and secured it to the TWC.  Although this piece is short enough to pass through a resawing operation on the bandsaw, it works well as a test piece here.  With the chainsaw bar levelled out, and the depth of cut set, I was ready for a first pass.

The first cut was set very shallow – I only wanted to take off enough to flat-spot the log, so it would sit more securely on the workbench for further slices.

As the chainsaw bit in, the unmistakable aroma of camphor wafted through the shed, undiminished by the continuous air filtration of the Microclene unit, or even the head protection afforded by the Purelite Respirator (I geared up a bit for this) – I’d have to have used a carbon filter to extract that, but it isn’t unpleasant (although my wife strongly disagreed when she made a surprise visit, committing the cardinal sin of interrupting shed time 😦 😉 )  Even a couple of hours later when I walked past the outside of the shed, the smell was still very much in evidence!

With the first cut complete, the log was flipped over for the first slab to be cut.

One of the problems I always have, is getting timber that is thick enough when I go shopping – like purchasing steak from the supermarket, they are sold so measly thin, on the (probably correct) assumption that people will buy more quantity, rather than quality (3 thin steaks sells better than 2 thick ones).  This isn’t an issue when you do it yourself, and in the case of slabbing a trunk, you can cut the slab as thick as you like.  And you can also choose whether you want regularly sawn timber, or quarter sawn.

Not an option you normally get from a box-hardware store.  For the same reason – a quarter sawn log is more expensive (more timber is wasted) and the average shopper doesn’t distinguish, other than on the price.

There are plenty of ripples across the surface from the cut, but a few quick passes through the drum sander got rid of them without a problem (I used the drum sander to avoid the snipe from the thicknesser on a short board).

Finally, it was off to the new workbench, and firing up of the Festool ETS 150/5 (random orbital sander)

Hard to see here, but a quick rub down with a wood oil (the ol’ Triton oil in this case) really picked out the details.  I didn’t actually need to oil it yet, other than my own curiosity – the board will head over to the tablesaw to cut it to size for the next project, and get whatever finish is applied to that, but I just wanted to really see how the details responded, especially the spalting, to a bit of oil.

Scary Sharp is a myth

I’m sure you’ve heard it before, and particularly associated with the method of sharpening chisels with increasing sandpaper grades: “So sharp, it is scary”

But can something be too sharp (which is almost the implication here)?  Should something sharp be regarded as scary, or rather more safe?

A blunt tool can still cut (you) easily.  What is too blunt to carve timber is still plenty sharp enough to do significant damage to your person.  It is a mistake to think a blunt tool is safer than a sharp one, and in fact the opposite is true.  Where a blunt tool takes effort to make it work, to the point that you find yourself using excessive force, and that risks slips, mistakes, and coming into contact with the working edge of the tool.

A sharp tool on the other hand cuts with ease, cuts with surprisingly little effort, produces a better result and is a pleasure to use to boot.

This is equally true for a chisel, a circular saw blade, a bandsaw blade, a drill bit, a kitchen knife etc.

Sharpness as a safety feature!

Taking that process on a step, and think about tools that require you to either feed material over a surface to make contact with the cutting edge (eg tablesaw, router table, jointer, thicknesser, tool fence etc) or have a working surface that runs over the material.  The simple step of lubricating that surface means less force is required, and therefore less chance of a slip and accident.

Lubrication as a safety feature!

Episode 24 Tool Maintenance Cast Iron and Sanders

Episode 24 Tool Maintenance Cast Iron and Sanders
For anyone not living in absolute ideal conditions, cast iron is not only magnetic, but “magnetically” attracts rust to it, and so it is important to both protect against rust, and be able to remove any ‘infection’ as soon as it starts.

Triton 15in Planer/Thicknesser/Moulder

I’ve just been out to the shed shooting the final installment of three videos that I will have available very shortly (hopefully by the end of the week for the first). (This doesn’t include a fourth that will be an after-market upgrade of a digital height scale).

The three videos are 1. Using the unit as a planer/thicknesser – as with the 13in thicknesser video, this is more a look at the unit itself than a monologue on the techniques of flattening a board. 2. Installing the moulding blades and 3. using the unit as a moulder.

I had to shoot the videos over a couple of days (evenings), as thicknessers generally rather noisy affairs, and as much as my neighbours have not complained about my noisy pursuits to date, I really don’t want to push my luck!

Talking of noise, (rather loose segue here), for those who have seen the recent video, the intro (and music) is still very much a work in progress, and although this new one will probably be used for the next set of videos, I hope to have a refined one ready pretty soon – just have to master the technologies (and create a more original music track)!

Back to thicknessers for a sec – I’ve been very remiss in keeping up with some of the other quality blogs out there, but I did come across a very relevant post on Sandal Woods that reminded me of a couple of similar experiences I’ve had with thicknessers. Al’s post can be found here, but in brief summary, if you find your thicknesser is having trouble feeding timber through, and the rollers don’t seem to be pulling on the timber properly, the fault is probably NOT the rollers. If you don’t keep the table sufficiently lubricated (waxed), it can quickly develop quite serious feed issues. I’ve had this happen a couple of times, and each time I have forgotten the lessons from the past, and wasted all sorts of time trying to diagnose a machine fault, when a quick clean and wipe with a bit of finishing wax would have (and eventually did) solve the problem! So thanks for the timely reminder Al!

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