milling about

Finally finally, finally got the Taig mill up and running again.
The only defective part has been me (ta da!).

One of my laments, before it was all disassembled and packed away for the (long ago) move to my new domicile, was the lack of workholding devices that were provided with the machine. The secondary market was also a bit thin at the time. But it's a machine tool; you're supposed to make things with it.

Taig's T-slots on the milling bed are not the same size as most other mini-mills; even a 1/4-20 threaded rod is really too big to use. Taig favours 10-32 hardware and (for the mill) includes only a couple of elongated, flat steel nuts. Injudicious use of the cap screws when tightening up will cause scoring of the T-slot bottom. A more elegant solution is demanded.

Certainly, there are 3rd parties that now sell accessory clamping kits for the Taig. However, it's time to make something (see end of 1st paragraph) for it myself.

Once the vertical column was trammed, I dug out the ER16 collets and the largest milling cutter I could find in the boxes (3/8"). It turns out I have several larger ones but they wouldn't do the job any faster in this case. The Sowa toolmaker's screwless vise was installed and squared up.

A 1/2" square bar of aluminium (6061?) was inked and scribed to the dimensions required, then clamped in the vise on top of two parallels. Flakes flew off the sides as I carved a 1/8" x 1/4" step into each long face of the stock. This produces a nice sliding fit in the T-slot while still not jamming on every strand of swarf.

Tomorrow's task is to mark out the holes, drill, tap and de-function-ise the bottom threads to prevent the screws from passing completely through. Then I'll mark off and slice the individual T-nuts from the bar. Later batches will be sized for both the lathe saddle T-slots and the front lip of the mill.


a measure of treasure

About a month ago I found a (fairly) local tool dealer known as Grandpa's Treasure Chest. Owner Larry Darbyson has been keeping his eyes open for a full set of Irwin auger bits for me.

Earlier this week Larry dropped me a note saying he'd found a likely candidate. I made the time to take a trip out to meet him in person and it was one of the most pleasant visits I've had in quite a while.

Larry received me in his cozy workshop. For nearly two and a half hours we poked and prodded through stacks of vintage saws, bits, planes, chisels and other necessities of life. Too many choices, too much to consider! But, in the end, I found myself in possession of a solid Stanley #7 jointer plane, a 24"x4" steel backed Disston mitre saw, and 12/13ths of a set of Irwin bits in a neat wooden case (sans the 15/16ths size). Additionally, Larry was able to provide a fluted countersink for my brace, plus both 1-1/8" and 1-1/4" augers and a Miller's Falls #47 expansion bit.

Frankly, it was a real treat and a morning I won't soon forget. Larry is doing a stellar job of keeping these valuable devices of the past out of the scrap heap and in the hands of woodworking enthusiasts. I'm already looking forward to future opportunities to interact and converse with Larry.

smooth moves

Recently I was helping my dad wire up a 2-track staging yard for his O-16.5, Welsh inspired portable layout. Dad already had the yard built and attached, so I just packed up my VOM and other electrically necessary tools for the job. The wiring itself was easy.

The staging yard is a removable shelf that attaches to the back of the quarry section of the layout. Trains enter and leave the sceniced portion through a hole in the backdrop.

The intent is to be able to park a couple of short trains off scene, and selectively power one track or the other. The layout is controlled with a Stapleton walkaround DC throttle so a simple on-off-on toggle did the trick in the new yard. A flying lead equipped with Anderson PowerPole connectors brought power from the quarry section.

The entrance to the yard was via a curve ladi across the edge joint and, due to some dimensional assumptions, there was a short slope from the backdrop down into the yard tracks. The included 18" radius section lead directly into the point end of a Peco insulfrog turnout.

And this is where the trouble all started.

One section of rail at the frog end of the "previously enjoyed and slightly shortened" Peco turnout had an intermittent electrical connection. In addition, the points are powered from their adjacent stock rails via small wipers attached to the base of the point rails. As a loco was moving across the turnout, slight shifting of the components made the electrical contact fail unpredictably causing jerky motion or stalling.

I was performing my functional tests with an HO P2K SW 4-axle diesel that (normally) runs beautifully. However, dad only uses 0-4-2 Bachmann and Peco/Branchline locos on the layout. When placed in service they wouldn't make it across the turnout without constant poking and prodding. A bigger issue turned out to be the track geometry itself. The short slope at the backdrop caused the cab end 2-wheel truck on the Bachmann locos to drop down and leave the track entirely, and the curve leading into the shortened point-end of the turnout caused the loco wheels to pick the point tips and derail.

While the equalised chassis of the Peco/Branchlines 0-4-2 engine managed the distance better than the rigid frame Bachmann "Anglacised" On30 Porters, the consistency of operation was not sufficiently high. Something had to be done.

After much filing and adjusting, Dad & I came to the decision to alter the brackets holding the yard shelf to eliminate the slope. He then tore up the track to improve the flow by inserting a short straight section just before the points. The turnout itself will be replaced by a live-frog version so that the short wheelbase locos can enjoy fewer interruptions in electrical pickup.

I'm still waiting to hear if the planned corrections have eliminated all of the problems. The physical distance between our homes makes it difficult to collaborate effectively.


  • avoid sharp transitions in vertical and horizontal planes
  • avoid curves leading into point end of turnout
  • use guard rails where necessary
  • ensure close fitting joints on curves


this plane is grounded

I finally took the time to start refurbishing the Stanley "Handyman" H1204 plane I picked up a short while ago. It's supposed to be a present for my brother-in-law (as far as I know he doesn't read this blog).
as found...

Disassembly was easy; there simply aren't that many parts. As I expected, the bed and frog castings were heavily painted, so neither the bed-to-frog nor frog-to-iron matings were actually solid.

I trued the sole of the plane and cleaned up its sides using medium and fine emery papers laid on my surface plate. The mouth is in decent shape; I don't want to open it. The mating surfaces of the bed and frog had all of the paint cleaned off with my least important single-cut file.

in pieces...
I took a cabinet scraper to the tote and knob, removing a cracked, nasty, shiny black paint. I'll still need to sand these handles before I refinish them with a Minwax stain.

The tip of the cap iron was cleaned up and flattened where it will contact the iron. The iron was then sharpened using my DMT red/blue and 5000 grit ceramic "stones". I picked these up at the now defunct Bingeman's Wood Show in Kitchener a year or so ago and they are working well for me. A bit of camber was added to prevent the iron's corners digging in on wide boards.

Reassembly of the components was straightforward, BUT...

I now understand why the plane was sitting forlornly (yet not too bad looking) at the antique barn. No matter how I adjust the frog, I cannot get the iron to square up with the bed; the left edge remains out of contact unless the adjustment lever is set over to nearly its limit. I assume that the previous owner(s) had little luck using it for any but the most basic planing tasks; there was no evidence of adjustment of the frog at any point in its life so I can only assume this is how it left the factory..

The iron has been re-ground dead square on the Delta grinder + Lee Valley grinding rest combo; there were some massive nicks at the edge. The mouth opening is squarely located on the sole.

back together but not ready for prime-time
The only solution that presents itself is to accurately mill the mating surfaces of the bed (fairly easy) and the frog (more difficult) to guarantee the iron's alignment. The next task will have to be (finally) setting up the Taig mill which has been is mothballs since before the move.

I think this is a good thing.


boxed in

I was able to kill two birds with one stone recently by combining wood working with model railroading; but not building a piece of rolling stock or a structure, or even the benchwork supporting the track.

Just knocking together a couple of boxes...

My friend Trevor Marshall wanted to add the use of waybills to the operating sessions on his S scale "Port Rowan" layout. Many operations-oriented modellers use cut-down representations of prototypical railroad forms - often stuck in little Masonite pockets on the front of their layout fascia. Trevor, however, didn't want to adopt this methodology. He was after something more realistic in appearance to hold his paperwork.

After evaluating several pictures of real waybill boxes, he eventually stated a preference for the Southern Pacific style. Based on the visual aesthetic, I had to agree.

 one basic shell and the start of the second
The real boxes are made of plywood and are quite tall, but the Port Rowan layout fascia would not allow a full sized box to be attached without intruding into the scene. I scaled down the box while trying to retain the functionality.

I needed to reduce the size of the materials to effectively reduce the size of box, but they still had to be robust. Sections of 1/2" and 1/4" poplar were used to create the box, with cast brass hinges & hasps from Lee Valley Tools replacing the (likely) zinc-plated steel hardware of the original.

heavy duty hardware

Brass #8 and #4 fasteners were obtained to attach the hardware; they really should all be slot-head to match the era. The hasp screws may yet get replaced if I can locate a handy source.

Overall dimensions are 2"d x 5-3/4"w x 8"h. A forward-tilting lid (not shown here) is 7"w x 3"d and 1/2" thick. The 1/4" thick front flap is taking on a bit of a bow in an obvious effort to "weather itself".

You can see the prototype inspiration at Tony Thompson's SP blog entry about their own waybill boxes. Trevor has already created a blog post about the installation of these two items on his layout, with links to (much better) pictures of the finished product.


gathering up

I've located and/or obtained a few more items in my quest to fill out a primarily hand-tool workshop.

Last week's trip to a flea market yielded a motley collection of spiral auger bits (from various manufacturers) for my braces. I had to paw through the dimly lit and rusty piles of tool-shaped objects to locate the most promising ones. My plan so far is to try to de-rust them using electrolysis, then sharpen and polish as required. I doubt the full range of diameters is represented, but I still have an iron in the fire for a complete set of Irwin or Jennings bits.

Today's antique market visit yielded a #4 Stanley "Handyman" H1204 plane - but not for me this time. With a little rehab work it should meet the needs of my brother-in-law for his recent woodworking interests. The Handyman line was a little on the light side in terms of construction, but can still be made functional. Should he reject it, I can easily turn it into a scrub plane for my own meager efforts.

While perusing a garage sale last month, a friend of mine grabbed three drawknives he thought I might be interested in (yes, I have great friends). Two of them are in excellent condition, merely requiring sharpening. The third is a little wonky in its handle-to-handle alignment, leading me to believe it was run over at some point - it may yet be made useable, though.

I'll be very interested to try the Lee Valley froe that I picked up last week. An old maple tree on our property had to be cut down before it fell down of its own accord. I've kept the majority of the wood from the trunk; the sections may or may not prove workable at this point. A couple of old wooden baseball bats will stand in as mallets until I can fabricate a proper whacking stick for the job.

Between the drawknifes, the froe and the various bench planes I already have, I anticipate being able to extract some usable lumber from short sections of tree trunks. This could turn out to be well beyond my capabilities, but I am sufficiently interested to give it a try. I can't see simply burning the entire maple that grew for 50+ years on our property without trying to capture something permanent from it's carcass. There are a number of other possible sources of stock in my area that could yield enough material for boxes, small cabinets, and basic furniture components. Given the price of good wood at the retail level, I think it deserves an attempt on my part.

Still outstanding on the list of desired items are a shoulder plane for cleaning up dadoes & tenons, and a #7 or #8 jointer/try plane for dealing with the long edges of boards for glue-ups; there's not much else I can think of that can't be made in-house. Sure I'd love a full set of chisels, some sash & panel-raising planes, and an infill smoother but these are all going to have to wait.

There is still a good deal of work ahead of me in cleaning up and tuning the vintage items I have already gathered. In an oddly comforting way, I'm really looking forward to the process. I'd better start thinking about a proper tool chest to put them all in!


to buy or not to buy

Yesterday I visited A&M Wood Specialty (again). They were celebrating their 40th anniversary with an open house event. Lie-Nielsen Tools were there, as well as a luthier, Sauer & Steiner Toolworks, and Steve Der-Garabedian, the instructor who has taught me a lot about working with wood recently.

Sauer & Steiner make some of the most beautiful infill planes I have ever seen, but their cost is well outside my range. I didn't think anything but a scraper could take shavings as fine as I was able to make with their planes.

Had a good chat with Steve about the processes and equipment necessary for veneering using a vacuum system. He pointed me to Joe Woodworker's site for the relevant info on making your own vacuum rig. Lots of other great info there as well.

Despite the generous offers on shipping & brokerage, I did not make any purchases from Lie-Nielsen. Their staff gave great demos of many plane types and various techniques. They also took the time to describe why you would use certain blades and differing frog angles to work different woods.

Oddly enough, I have (almost) enough tools for what I want to do. I know, it sounds very unlikely but it is true. Trying to work primarily with hand tools does impose some limits on what you will buy. You can go wild accessorising a table saw, but there's just not much to add to a 7 tpi panel saw filed for ripping.

I am, of course, still looking for a few items - such as a #7 jointer plane, 3/4" shoulder plane, crosscut carcass saw and a full set of auger bits. The only critical one is the carcass saw at the moment. I will try to resurrect a small, fine pitch "toolbox" saw and give it a shot, but I fear that the lack of an integral spine will create some problems achieving the accuracy I am after.

I ended up purchasing nothing at all; not even more wood for projects. This time it was the knowledge that was of the most value.


draughty in here...

I used to own a draughting board. I made it in the Wood shop at high school. Most of a 3/4" thick, 4'x6' sheet of cabinet grade ply ended up as the top. The frame and legs were made from 5/4 poplar, with through mortises and lapped mitres. Based on the finished results, the teacher asked me to make him a table, too (a great compliment, frankly). Everything from deck design to charcoal sketches and Dungeon maps happened on this spacious worktop. Many years later, it was sold to a fellow who did technical illustrations. I vaguely regret the decision to do so, but I'm sure it did the job for him.

One of my classmates had made a smaller "artists" table with a tilting top which was equally adept at doing small draughting jobs (up to C size). I inherited this board when he passed away and enjoyed using it as a sketching surface for several years. A fairly talented watercolour artist was thrilled to become the new owner of this table as her primary work space; I'm sure its creator approves.

Fast forward a few years; I was required to take a course on technical drawings as part of the machining programme at a local college. It was supposed to be "Interpretation of Engineering Drawings" which, as the title suggests, is an analytic exercise. However, by the time this course was to begin, it had somehow magically transformed into "Introduction to Basic Drafting" (sic). Back to the drawing board, indeed. Surprisingly, I was able to locate my cache of supplies from high school, avoiding an extra cost but not the disappointment at this ham-fisted re-jigging of the curriculum.

The college was in the middle of an upgrade effort at the time and, as luck would have it, I was able to obtain one of their old, parallel-equipped boards for homework completion. A good size and more convenient than using my venerable T-squares. Upon finishing this programme, the board went on to a college girl undertaking Interior Design. I hope it serves her well.

While I have some facility with CAD software (both 2D and 3D) there are still many tasks which are made more pleasant by having an actual, physical board to putter about upon. My better half recently located a portable board of decent size which I quickly commandeered and re-assembled. It is equipped with a sliding parallel and is meant to be used while resting on another table top, making it dead easy to put away when not needed (a triumph compared to having a 4'x6', limited purpose table sitting in the room). Once again the pencils & erasing shields are out...

Seems I can't really live without a draughting board of some kind. I guess I'm just old fashioned.


vote early, vote often

Shopping has become a necessary evil.

Some stores take the evil part too seriously.

All you need are a few small items. That's it. Nothing rare or exotic. No special orders.

You get to the shop, and are presented with any or all of the following:

  • no items left in the bin, despite assurances from the online inventory check
  • a single item left in bin, but damaged in some way
  • item in the wrong bin
  • item with no bar codes
  • staff that don't know what they sell (notes 1 and 2)
  • staff that don't know what you're talking about (notes 3 and 4) 
  • you are forced to use "self checkout"
  • the self checkout is filthy and badly labelled with poor instructions
  • the self checkout scanner is scratched up so badly it can't actually read the barcodes
  • the on-hand staffers are computer illiterate and can't actually help you

You can help!
Vote with your money! 

Stop spending your cash at places like this! 
With luck, it will make them go away!

note 1: The staff didn't know the difference between aircraft shears and tin snips, nor did they know why the handles on the shears come in different colours. 

note 2: After hunting through the shop fruitlessly looking for "stain pens" to touch up damaged furniture, the staff said "we don't sell those kinds of things". On the way out via a different aisle, a wide array of these items were found hidden in an area that had nothing whatsoever to do with stain, furniture, or even pens/markers.

note 3: On two seperate occasions, I needed elevator bolts and Chicago bolts. The fastener aisle was, as usual, a mess in terms of any logical presentation. Not a single person had any clue what these items might look like, and only a couple had the vague idea that I might want to "look in the section where the bolts are".

note 4: I needed to mount some pictures in frames with glass and backing boards so I went looking for glazier's points. Blank stares from the shop staff. I did get sent to a big aisle full of pre-hung windows. That salesperson also had no idea what these strange mystery items might be or where they could be found.


wooden it be nice

Made a trip to A&M Wood Specialty last week. Wow.

I had gone there looking for white oak to replace the seat slats of a park bench left behind by the previous home owners. The bench is mostly heavy metal castings (iron?) but the seats themselves are still wood. It deserves to be saved; maybe next year I'll have it media-blasted and properly painted.

When he was free (it's a busy place), I spoke to Jerry - who talked me into a couple of slabs of Iroko instead. The wood came out of their thickness planer looking very nice indeed; almost too nice to sit on. According to what I've read, it won't require a protective finish when used outdoors. In addition, apparently, Iroko trees are inhabited by malevolent spirits who can drive people mad and cause them to die suddenly. Not the sort of thing that comes up in a typical "suitable applications for wood" conversation, though.

These will have to be ripped to width, cut to finished length and have the edges eased all 'round. I found a 10" Freud ripping blade on sale for $36 to replace the abused finishing blade that came with my used DeWALT contractor's saw. Come to think of it, the saw itself has been slightly abused; nothing irreparable however.

I'll pick up some stainless fasteners for the job. Yeah, they are a bit more expensive, but this stuff will be sitting outside for the rest of its life.


everything old

Yesterday, I was able to make time to visit the workshop of one of the local hobby machinists. He has been obtaining and rebuilding old machine tools for some time now and has done a really great job of it. His shop is possibly the best I've seen in terms of layout and utility. Nothing fancy, but the tools are well lit and there is enough equipment to tackle just about anything you can think of without having the tools jammed on top of one another.

One of the most gratifying things about this workshop is that none of the tools are new. They are objects that some people would have simply sent to the scrap pile - not because they weren't good enough to do a job, but merely because they were old. The owner has taken the time to restore, repair & rebuild a number of vintage pieces (one dating from the 20's) into useful machines that perform real work.

The thoughtful effort and planning that has to go into even one such project is not insignificant. Most people are simply not willing to undertake a task of this magnitude just for their hobby. A great number of people no longer possess the practical knowledge or manual skills to undertake it even if they had the time. Ways of learning the skills to do so are disappearing (people & institutions) and there seems to be little perceived value in the skilled trades. Too much hard work and, after all, why make or build when you can simply buy?

The satisfaction obtained through the offspring of the combined forces of hand and mind cannot be overestimated. The owner is duly proud of his results, and his work is certainly inspiring to myself and others. I look forward to visiting him again.


just plane tired

It has been a long time between posts (again), I'm afraid. Not that things haven't been happening; simply too much going on to allow a decent pause for reflection. However, I just took a bit of a break. So why am I tired?

Learning stuff.

Cramming more info into my brain can quickly wear me out, but I still find it enjoyable. This weekend I was fortunate to be able to attend a seminar at Lee Valley Tools (King St. location) with instructor Steve Der-Garabedian from Black Walnut Studio and fellow student Trevor Marshall. We were building wooden-bodied hand planes in the James Krenov style.

Trevor took a quick pic of me during the class (pic at right). I'm noting the manufacturer of an adjusting hammer that Steve had on display. It's from Glen-Drake Toolworks. Steve is in the background at the right.

Steve was the instructor who taught Trevor and me how to make a traditional 12" bow saw earlier this year; another positive experience. Steve is a personable and patient teacher with a great attitude towards working with wood. I'm already looking forward to the next chance to learn from him.

This style of plane is constructed of two sides, a rear block, a front block, a cross-pin and a wedge all made from the same chunk of wood. The blank is sawn, jointed, thicknessed and re-assembled in its original orientation to preserve the contiguous look of the material's grain after being carefully glued up. There are other plane-making methods that involve keeping the solid shape intact throughout the work but I believe they are less forgiving of the newcomer.

The entire project was fairly operations intensive. We ended up using the table saw, jointer, thickness planer, and bandsaw to form the block of dense Jatoba wood into the necessary shapes to create the final assembly. Yes, all of these dimensioning steps could be done using only hand tools (but certainly not in the time available) however at our current skill level we probably would have generated much more waste and delays due to inevitable errors. Tweaking the machine-made cuts was done with block planes, chisels and cabinet scrapers. While the slope where the blade would bed against could probably range anywhere from 41 to 49°, it was critical to get the relationship between the side of the plane and this bedding face as close to 90° as possible, otherwise the blade would be skewed in the mouth opening.

Ensuring all of the shaping tasks were done accurately and getting all the bits back together in the correct alignment was a bit nerve wracking. Once it's glued up, any gross errors will likely mean having to start over from the beginning - while small mistakes could be recovered from with copious assistance from our instructor.

A thick, heavy blade and cap iron made by Ron Hock was set in place to permit final treatment (under working stresses) of the sole on fine sandpaper & a very very (very) flat surface (granite plate, float glass, or cast-iron jointer bed). BTW, Ron also sells plans for various Krenov planes at his website.

The most fiddly step was properly setting the mouth opening where the blade would eventually pass through. You have to plan for at least one pass over the jointer and a few passes over the fine sandpaper once the gluing is done and the clamps are released. If you under (or over) estimate the finished size of this opening, you can shorten the working life of the plane or leave yourself a lot of extra work to make it operational. In the end, some careful work with a safe-edged file, a precision square, and a lot of squinting produced the properly proportioned mouth for the blade.

Steve always emphasises that we should proceed slowly & carefully and ask questions at any time we were uncertain how to move ahead. This measured pace of progress is a refreshing change for me. This pastime definitely has a lot to teach people about patience and perseverance.

This course was intended to make a 'smoothing' plane, which takes the last fine shavings off of a workpiece to bring it to a final, almost polished finish. This level of workmanship is a lot to ask of newcomers, but I think we actually succeeded. I was able to take fine passes over a block of maple and remove just the thinnest wisps of material. Very gratifying!

I still have more work to do to refine the shape of the plane body. Steve recommends working with it for a while to see how it feels in use; i.e. which corners dig into your palm or finger, etc. Saws, rasps, spokeshaves, and sandpaper will no doubt be applied to the body to render it a more pleasing form. I couldn't resist bandsawing off the alignment pins at the extreme ends of the glued-up block and performing a bit of preliminary rounding on the stationary sander before I left the class, though...

Alas, I took no pics of the actual event - I was too busy being absorbed by the work :-) but I did take a couple of pics a few minutes ago. Here is what the plane looks like today....

Note the fine, lacy shavings taken from the maple block.

Wooden bodied planes are adjusted by hitting the body of the plane with a hammer. Hard in the centre of the back face to draw the blade upwards (reduce depth of cut) and gently at the top edge of the blade itself to push it down (increase depth of cut). To adjust the blade left and right, an even more gentle tap with the hammer on the respective side of the blade. After each adjustment, the wedge is tapped down to ensure the blade doesn't get pushed back up into the body during a cut. A bit of paraffin wax can be lightly rubbed on the sole to smooth the action.

I'll have to get used to the idea that this plane will alter with time, temperature, and humidity. It may work fine today but not next week as it 'moves' due to changes in the environment and its own wear pattern. Lots to learn, lots to remember, and lots to practise.


chop chop

Only small progress to speak of, but progress nonetheless. It still amazes me how quickly we can be overwhelmed by seemingly inconsequential daily occurrences.

How do they do it? Volume! It is "the death of a thousand cuts". Each incident, taken singly, has an infinitesimal impact. Piled high upon your shoulders, the sum total can seem an impossible burden.

Conventional wisdom states that consuming an elephant should be done "one bite at a time". Pace yourself. Take a break now and then. Don't let the towering mass get you down. Patience & Perseverance, etc.

I'm off for another morsel...


survey says:

"More shade".

It gets hot here in the summer. In order to minimise exposure to the sun while running trains in the garden, I've settled on the 'more shade' versus 'less wet' option for the location of the track. Time will tell if this decision is a good one; I may need to invest in some Wellingtons.

I'll use a couple of garden hoses to establish the (very simple) arrangment of track. I'd like to minimise the impact on mowing and trimming the grass-like substances that cover the ground, so I'll have to leave room for the passage of a garden tractor at the periphery.

In terms of route, it will be a simple oval with a siding offering a spot for guests to 'steam-up'. 32mm gauge, single track. Still looking for an inexpensive method of raising the track off the ground; galvanised steel fence posts are the current front-runner for the job.

Going to visit another garden railroader who is using raised track this week. I vaguely recall his solution being practical and effective. More investigation is warranted, but I can (at least) lay out the route with wooden stakes and see how it looks.

hazy crazy lazy...

...days of Summer. At least the first two terms are accurate. Lazy, I'm not so sure of.

Too many activities to jam into the space between a wet Spring and a cool Autumn. Despite longer daylight hours, the highly desirable hobby pursuits - trains, machining, woodworking - seem to get pushed off to the side far too easily.

This isn't to say that overall gains are not being made. Things are getting done; far more of the 'must-do' versus several fewer of the 'nice-to-haves'; and these all build towards the grail-like end goal we have each set for ourselves.

The process of making things 'a little better tomorrow than they are today' continues unabated. It is important to look at achievement and progress in terms of trends, otherwise even a small setback or delay will take on a weight disproportionate to its long term impact.

Once a few items that are beyond personal control settle themselves, and a couple of self-serving tasks are brought to a conclusion, there will be more leisure and less lament.


stories & treasures

Tools are funny things; especially old tools. Looking at, and handling, an old tool tells you a story. Every mark on each tool is part of the (mis)adventure of the tool's - and its owner's - life. Last year I came into possession of some tools from a deceased relative. At the time, they were appreciated as being kept in the family and carefully set aside as 'maybe I can use these one day' items. This year, the wood bug bit hard and I went digging into my past; I am now very glad that I did.

First out of the box was my grandfather's Bailey #4 (casting date 1910). The tote needs to be fixed, but it is otherwise in good condition. I remember him using it to plane down the edge of a sticking door. I can also recall his oilstone with a gouge down the centre that he could never quite get rid of; but he managed to sharpen tools with it anyway. This should make a nice scrub plane, and I can be reminded of him every time I use it.

Next up was a #5 Bailey in great condition. Now I have a pair! These will each get differently ground irons for different jobs. The #5 is long enough to true up the edge of a fairly long board, but it also serves admirably in flattening boards across their width.

Another great find was a Stanley 9-1/2 block plane with adjustable mouth. It needs a little squaring up of the moving part but is otherwise serviceable. I should be able to correct this once I get the machine tools going in the shop.

Six medium sized turning tools; skew, v, parting, and gouges. I don't (yet) own a wood lathe, but I suppose a treadle or spring-pole lathe project would be a fun undertaking :-) .

A large Yankee screwdriver. The twist-lock for the extensible shaft needs to be repaired but otherwise it seems to work just fine. The most common bit (back in the day) was for slot head screws and I simply dislike using this type for all but decorative applications. But, thanks to some retro-futurist, hex-bit adapters are now available to allow the use of any modern, 1/4" shank bit. Hurrah!

A Stanley #151 adjustable spokeshave. I've already cleaned up the sole on this and had a go at one of the many pine scraps. The iron is still sharp and takes a nice, controllable cut thanks to the thoughtfully shaped handle castings.

A Stanley #80 scraper with the 'sweetheart' logo. This has a crusty, rusty sole but is otherwise solid. And I couldn't help but notice that the edge of the blade is still very, very sharp. Very.

** Lee Valley sells replacement blades and irons for many vintage cutting tools **

An 8" throw, Stanley "Victor" #965 drill brace with the 'sweetheart' logo. A little oiling of the moving parts and it now turns just as well as the day it came from the factory.

7 auger bits in a terrible state. It's doubtful that I can save more than 2 of them. Sad, really.

A pair of 10", German made tin snips. I haven't tried cutting anything with these yet, but the 'ess' curves of the forged handles are visually appealing in a way that modern stuff mostly isn't.

A brass-and-wood sliding T-bevel. This needs a good clean-up and testing for straightness of the stock and blade. Nicely made and has a smaller form-factor than my own T-bevel.

All of the tools are nicked, scratched, scuffed, and otherwise show signs of use, wear, and care. Some of them have been around for 100 years, now. Still useful, still appreciated, still capable of doing good work. I'm going to clean them up, resharpen the cutting edges, and replace any broken or damaged components as best I can. Then they will be employed in my own projects and on various tasks for my friends, writing yet more chapters in their long stories. Maybe they'll be around for another 100 years...


slowly I turned...

step by step, inch by inch...

Nope. neither the Stooges nor Abbott & Costello are doing their respective Niagara Falls bit within my blog. However, Millers Falls once again appears in the story. I picked up one of their fine router planes at that same antique market, along with a mint condition Eclipse saw set. On the way back I noted a 60's vintage Rockwell-Beaver 4" jointer sitting roadside with appropriate signage and, after a short chat with the seller, loaded this find into the back of the vehicle to also take up residence in the (already) crowded house. Solid castings, sharp blades, and a small footprint. What am I thinking of using it for? Making wooden planes, of course...

Missing from the 'ideal equipment' list is a vertical bandsaw, a set of auger bits for the brace, various types of chisels (mortise & paring, at least), plus a solid workbench to undertake the projects upon. Otherwise I believe I am well & truly outfitted with tools, if not quite the energy or time to use them.

Making space for all this is key. Progress on that front has been made, and continues to grind slowly onward to the goal of empty cubic feet. Look for 'For Sale' notices covering a variety of tools, books, models. and so forth in the near future.


salvage central

After work yesterday I was wandering a local hamlet's antique market after sampling the wares at their quaint little bakery (excellent date squares, if you must know). Lo and behold a there was a Stanley/Bailey #5 fore plane with "Made in Canada" in the top of the casting. In another overflowing room, a pristine Millers Falls ratcheting brace was revealed in a pile of lesser quality fare. Everything was 20% off the marked price, so I grabbed these two items forthwith.

The base of the plane has been slightly (and foolishly) abused, but should be easily repaired with a little careful work. It's equipped with a square-ground iron which I will regrind and sharpen to an 8" radius. The brace only needed some small streaks of ancient, pale green paint cleaned off the handle; both chuck and ratchet teeth are in really fantastic condition.


I went to the roadhouse...

and I got myself a...
chocolate milkshake and a Philly steak & cheese. Yeah, I know it isn't the same as the song - but I won't get sued by the RIAA, either.

If you're ever in Calgary, and even just a little hungry, eat here:

day 2, part 1

The second day in Calgary dawned bright and clear. The clarity & cleanliness of the air out there is surely something worth experiencing.

My host (Dean) and I tore off on another visit, this time to Geoff Southwood's place to see his in-progress HO Boston & Maine layout. Geoff is very nicely integrating his layout into his beautiful home as he goes along; no forests of unfinished benchwork cluttering up the place endlessly for him. I can appreciate his desire not to be surrounded by visual chaos for ages, even at the expense of not being able to run op sessions by getting all the track down first.

The layout will be two levels, and will feature RDC's and many other recognisable staples of the B&M.

Keeping it real - a simple plan but an attainable goal.
Some modeller's licence in the harbour interior. Water still to be poured.
What is New England without antique shops?
Fine dining on the waterfront.
The harbour grow-out. The fascia treatment is very clean.
Two legs of the wye.
An overall shot of the primary portion of the layout,
with bookshelves neatly included in the design.

beady little I

An attempt at a length of moulded edge using the Stanley 55. A short, warped piece of pine proved to be the first victim. 1/4" bead along the bottom edge and 3/8" bead along the top edge (to different depths) leaving a shadowy step in the middle.

Immediately, I can see the need for a proper length & height planing bench with better stops & clamps (sorry, trusty old Workmate). However - since I have still not sharpened or cleaned anything, nor deployed the slitting cutters ahead of the irons, I am mightily pleased. A tiny bit of tearout was quickly dealt with using the impressive Lee Valley spokeshave.

I can easily imagine a bedside table with a similar edge on its top...


ploughing ahead

I now have (most of) a Stanley #55 universal plane. Thanks to favourable planetary alignments I was able to obtain this plane for my own use and am looking forward to tackling various projects.

I said "most of" as the plane is not quite complete. There are more than enough components to perform various rabbet, dado, and beading functions - which should see me well along the learning curve. Careful browsing of eBay and various antique tool vendors should eventually garner the rest of the parts, opening up even more capabilities. It did come complete with 17 brand new cutters from Record Tools in England, so I won't be scrabbling around looking for irons just to get started.

This particular tool is, by many accounts, a notoriously difficult piece of equipment to coax into its best behaviour. However, within 1/2 hour of receipt and only cursory inspection of the instructions, I was ploughing a precise 1/4" groove along the edge of pine board to a fixed depth. I won't say it was effortless, but it certainly wasn't the torturous journey some people would have you believe. That said, I can already see that setting up multiple cutters in succession to create a complicated bit of casing or crown will be a matter of patience & perseverance.

I am not surprised that a tool in excess of 100 years old (if I read the markings on this example correctly) remains able to continue its work in the manner it began. Not much can be expected in the way of longevity for most offerings in the trade today. I am extremely pleased to be able to accompany this tool into its second century of useful output (and it will likely outlast me). A little cleaning and sharpening is all that is required to allow me to undertake some further experiments. My expectations are high.


a bit of British

A short break from Supertrain. I was going to stay home this weekend, but decided to take in the 2012 Great British Train Show in the neighbouring city. I'm glad I did. As usual, there were many examples of fine modelling, and the chance to outfit and entire OO layout with locomotives and rolling stock from the vendor tables. I once more resisted the latter.

One thing that I didn't expect to see was the following:

Lineside Lorries, 4mm scale cardstock vehicles. Yes, cardstock. They were on display at Brian Fayle's micro layout "Underneath the Arches". These 'plans kits' are from the 1940's. You got a set of plans, cut out all of the pieces in various thicknesses of cardstock, gave each piece a coat of shellac, and laminated them together with 'Seccotine' fish glue. The wheels are the only commercial parts; they are whitemetal castings. The glass is celluloid film, sandwiched between layers of card. The models that Brian had on the table were the better part of 70 years old. Impressive longevity...


hitting the wall

I came across a well weathered wall while I was on holiday. Stood back about 20 feet and took a shot. This should represent looking at an O scale wall from about 4". Notice what isn't in the picture.

You guessed it; no nail holes. You can make out the odd nail head, and easily see indications of where the studs are. Lots of flaked paint down at the bottom, and lots of chalky (or dusty, the rain doesn't hit it up there) looking paint at the top. This illustrates the importance of modelling something by looking at real world references rather than based on impressions, memories, or word-of-mouth approaches. Find the actually item you want to model, or take a picture of it in good lighting conditions, and try to emulate what is really there. 


meeting of the (like) minds

There I was, many thousands of miles from home, in the middle of an unfamiliar (but enjoyable) train show. A complete stranger walked up to me and, by way of introduction, spoke the words of a running gag that we enjoy on the Model Rail Radio podcast. This gentleman had heard I was going to be at Supertrain and had wondered how he would recognise me. Lucky for him I was wearing a red-sleeved baseball jersey with a huge MRR logo on the front.

It was a real treat for me to meet Andy Thomas, an N scale modeller from out west, who listens to the podcast. Andy is busy with a layout project which he is documenting on his own blog site  http://nscalefortstjohnsub.wordpress.com/
I hope that Andy can find the time to call in to the show and bring everyone up to speed on his layout plans; they look interesting and I'm sure he has some knowedge to share.


day 1, part 1

The primary reason to visit Gary Graham's place was to see the progress on his On2/On3/Proto48 layout. His track design and scenery crew are empowered to make changes deemed necessary to ensure smooth running and appropriate landscape appearance. The track plan is not written in stone, and has undergone many changes. Gary has stopped trying to paint the fascia as the frequent plasterwork by the crew stains the fresh coat almost as soon as he turns his back on it. The arrangement (for the moment) is point-to-loop, with On3 on the high-line and On2 on the lower alignment. I would really enjoy coming back and seeing this layout when it is nearer to completion.

day 1, part 1.5

The first visit on the evening of day one took us to Gary Graham's place. Bill Kerr and Gary have been building an entry for the newest feature of Supertrain, the diorama display. My host Dean and I got a good look at the diorama before the show itself. The track is handlaid for 2' gauge in O scale. The railcar is a model of a Maine prototype. Foliage is from Selkirk Scenery fall colours range.

Gee, those cows look familiar... Why, they are S Scale cows! All the way from Trevor's surplus stock yard in Ontario to the wilds of Calgary to populate an O scale diorama! 

can it

Well known British Columbia modeller Tom Beaton likes to build dioramas in unusual containers. Here are two examples that he had on display with the South Bank Short Line group at Supertrain. The first one is in a section of Sonotube normally used as a concrete form for posts. The second is in an old milk can that was partially rusted away. Nice conversation pieces for the living room...

A close-up of the Sonotube diorama.

Closer to the milk can...

And closer still...

day 1, part 2

I arrived in Calgary for Supertrain 2012 on the Wednesday afternoon before the show. I figured that day one would be used up getting sorted out and settled in. Local Calgarian Bill Kerr, owner of Selkirk Scenery and a talented modeller, had other ideas. Bill wanted to show my gracious host (Dean) and me some sights before the show. Our second visit of the night was to see Herbert Stroh's impressive 2-rail O scale Canadian Pacific layout. Herb's presentation and quality of work is excellent, as you can see from these snapshots...

Along the edge of town.

All the track is handlaid on wood ties.

A magnificent 6' trestle.

Down by the roundhouse.

Ready for a day on the lake.

Looking up at the mine buildings.

Herb scratchbuilt this Consolidation in 1971