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Archive for the ‘Tools’ Category

Cry Havoc! And Let Slip the Dogs of Bench

Friday, July 17th, 2015

Wood That I Could

Today I learned something disturbing about hand planes.

A while back, I found that I had the ability to hand-sharpen stuff with remarkable accuracy. I proceeded to fix up the blades of my old hand planes. I made edges that were either perpendicular to the length of the blades or, in the case of a blade that was originally sharpened way off perpendicular, nearly so.

I was happy. The blades looked pretty good, apart from the gouges my early efforts made, and they were literally like razors. I planed with them and felt great joy.

Then I saw this guy.

His name is Richard Maguire, and he goes by “the English Woodworker.” Good luck getting a trademark on that in the USA.

When I watch him, I keep expecting Eric Idle to pop out of a refrigerator.

He uses hand tools and does lots of neat work. He makes a living making workbenches. He knows a great deal about weird old tools.

A week or so back, I heard him say something about “cambering” plane blades. This means that instead of a straight edge, you create a convex arc. When you put the blade in the plane, the center is slightly lower than the edges, so it hits the wood first.

I waved my hand and decided to write him off as an eccentric. Because I had done so much work on my blades.

Today I was reading up on planes, and I read some credible stuff that said that it was necessary to camber plane blades. Not optional. Not optimal. Necessary.

The problem is that if you don’t do this, the corners of the blade will be level with the center, and they will cut just as deep. Where the blade ends, the cutting stops, so you get a tiny rabbet. Not the kind you surprise your kids with at Easter and then turn loose in a park when no one is looking because you’re tired of cleaning the cage. A rabbet is a straight cut in a piece of wood with a 90-degree wall.

I guess calling a miniscule gouge a rabbet is an exaggeration, but you get the point. You’re trying to make a piece of wood smooth, and you leave long scratches in it.

Today I removed my vise from my bench so I could flatten the top a little. There are six boards in the top, and the third one in was pretty warped. I started planing it, and I saw the scratches, and that’s when I started reading up.

Then I read up on how to put a camber in a plane blade. Some people call plane blades cutters or irons. I am not that particular.

It turns out that if you sharpen by hand, using whetstones, you have to push really hard on one side while you sharpen it, and then you push really hard on the other side. Over time, the sides get cut more than the middle, and you get a very wide arc.

So I spent like 3 hours resharpening my blades. I found that once you start to get close to the arc you want, you can perfect it by switching the pressure from one side of the blade to the other during each stroke.

You can buy jigs and machines to do this stuff, but then you’re a loser and a girly man, and I wasn’t having that. And I don’t want to have to drag the woodworking equivalent of the Electrowhocardioshnooks out every time I want to do something.

So here is the bench now. The last two boards are covered by important woodworking tools such as my computer monitor and CNC lathe, so they’re not flat yet.

07 17 15 workbench flattened with hand planes

My big project for the weekend is to put the vise together. I am hoping UPS came through on its promise to deliver the acme screws and nuts today.

I also ordered some holdfasts. These are bent pieces of wood, like the hooked ends of crowbars. Dang…I just realized I could have bought crowbars and sawed them in half. Anyway, you drive them into holes in the top of your bench, they get wedged in, and pads on the ends of the hooks hold your wood down.

I will have to make holes for these things. Unfortunately, the bench top is only 1.5″ thick, and that’s half an inch too thin for holdfasts, so I will have to attach a board under the bench to make the holes deeper.

Once this is done, I will be able to hold wood down properly while I work on it instead of sitting on it or holding it down with my face.

The bench is getting surprisingly nice. You wouldn’t want it in your living room, but stuff no longer rocks when it sits on it. I could build a new top in two days, but I like doing modifications. It allows me to get practice without screwing up anything expensive or important.

I plan to use the holes for bench dogs, too. These are little cylinders of wood that sit partway in the holes, held up by friction, and keep wood from moving sideways. You can put a vertical thing in your vise’s moving jaw, put a piece of wood against it, and tighten the vise until it drives the wood into one or more dogs. This holds it in place. You can also use a bench dog, a holdfast, and a batten. But I am too lazy to tell you what this means.

I have learned an amazing thing, which I already suspected. Human beings have the ability to detect things their senses can’t really pick up.

For example, when I was sharpening the blades, I was creating deviations from straight that amounted to maybe four thousandths of an inch. To be really sure what was happening, I would hold the edges up to a machinist’s square and look for light between the rule and the blades. But before I put the blades up to the square, I already knew, pretty much, what I was going to see.

When I was planing, I had a carpenter’s square, which I used to check the wood for flatness. But I found that when I ran my hands over the wood, the high places, which were maybe five or ten thousandths high, felt positively swollen. They were very obvious.

Don’t ask me to explain it. I can’t.

Let’s see. What else?

I made a router plane. A router plane is a tool with a blade that projects down from a flat body. You use it to even out the bottoms of dadoes, which are like two rabbets facing each other. In other words, a dado is a slot with vertical walls and a flat bottom.

07 16 15 homemade router plane with set screw added

There are a million router planes on the market, and none are cheap. I was very confused when I shopped. Then I saw this guy.

That’s Paul Sellers. He is merely AN English woodworker. To be clear. Anyway, he says you can make a working plane by driving a chisel through a board. So I bought a chisel and gave it a shot. But I found that making a chisel sit level in a round hole was iffy, and on top of that, I expected the hole to open up quickly with use, so I decided to make a board with a flat hole through it.

In order to do that, I had to make a slot half an inch wide, at 35 degrees to horizontal. Then I had to fill the slot most of the way with a piece of wood half and inch thick. The finishing touch was a set screw, which I made by cutting a quarter-inch lag bolt in half. I can move the chisel back and fort to adjust the depth of the cut, and the screw holds it in place and forces it to level itself against the flat bottom of the hole.

I cheated in the worst way possible. I used the milling machine to make the slot. Doing it with woodworking tools would have been a nightmare. I finished with planes, butchering the wood in the slot pretty badly, which proves my point.

I almost killed myself making this infernal object, but I did finish.

Does it work? No idea. I don’t have any dadoes at the moment. That’s not the point. I wanted to make it, and I did.

Now I may have something that will function while I either choose or make a real router plane.

07 16 15 using milling machine to cheat on router plane

I know you find this fascinating. Let me just say this: you’re welcome.

Bench Trials

Monday, July 13th, 2015

A Certain Amount of Bleeding is Good for You

I have been fiddling around with my workbench.

I built it in maybe 2007. I did not know what a workbench should be like, so I guessed. I used pressure-treated four-by-fours for the legs. I put horizontal two-by-eights in several places for added rigidity, and I covered it with two-by-sixes laid flat.

I did not know much about joinery or routing, so I made an interesting choice. I took a router and made tongues and grooves on the boards that made up the top, and I shoved them together. The outermost boards had screws holding them down, and they held the other boards in place. I put one additional screw near the end of each inner board.

The tongues and grooves were not too good. I think I didn’t understand the importance of milling wood to make it flat and straight. When you have boards with curved edges and various types of warpage, they don’t mate up all that well. Now I have a few cracks that things fall into. Screws and drill bits, mostly.

The irony is that I thought the joinery would prevent things from falling. I didn’t want stuff to fall down between the boards and go right through so they landed under the table. Now it falls and gets stuck half an inch below the level of the top, and it tends to get covered with sawdust and other crap.

Yesterday I dug around between two boards and found a drill bit I had been missing for weeks, plus an unusual screw that fell out of a rotary table.

The workbench has its issues, but it’s very solid. You could literally park a car on it, if you could find a way to fit it.

It’s not a real woodworking bench. It’s just a general-purpose bench. I stuck a heavy 5″ mechanic’s vise on the left front corner, and I didn’t add any features that would help me work on wood. No dog holes. No wood vises.

Much later, I learned what woodworking benches were like.

Internet hobbyists are probably not the greatest guys to ask for advice when it comes to benches. Most of them have never had to make a wooden item in order to put food on the table, so they don’t know a whole lot about efficiency or what really works. They like benches that look fancy and have lots of cool joints in them. And sometimes they use hardwoods, which is apparently a mistake.

I’ve been studying up on this. Evidently, crummmy wood like pine and fir is the best choice for a workbench. It’s cheap. It’s relatively easy to work. You can glue long pieces together and make huge laminated boards without quality jointing; the wood is soft enough to deform when clamped, closing any gaps caused by warpage. You don’t need to run it through a jointer, which would be a chore.

Also, you should not sand a workbench top and make it super-pretty. If you do, stuff will slide around on it because it has no grip. Professional woodworkers will actually fix their benches when they get too smooth. There are planes made for this purpose. They have toothed blades. You take the plane, and you deliberately rough up your gorgeous surface so cabinets won’t slide off and shoot across the shop.

Hobby woodworkers tend to make benches with tops that are way too thick. When a top gets more than 3″ thick, you will start to have issues when you try to use holdfasts. A holdfast is a bent rod that goes through the top. It has a flat clamping surface on one end. The other end is straight. You push the straight end down into a hole in your bench, and it gets wedged and holds your work down flat so you can butcher it. If the hole is too deep, it won’t want to wedge.

On the other hand, a thin (1.5″) top like the one I have is bad, because it won’t work with many vises. An example is the Eclipse 10″ vise, which is a Czech copy of a vise made by Record. This thing is supposed to be screwed to the underside of a thick bench, with over a foot of hardward projecting horizontally underneath. The fixed jaw goes against the edge of the bench, and it’s pretty deep. If the side of your bench is 1.5″ high, you have a problem. Also, if you have a vertical board under the edge of your bench to support the top, you will have to cut holes in it for the vise hardward.

I have two vertical boards a few inches apart.

Seemed smart at the time.

I am not planning to make a new bench right now. I can’t think of an excuse, so I will just admit I’m lazy. Over the last day or two I’ve learned things that make it less intimidating, but during that time I made a choice to work with what I have, and I made substantial modifications, so I want to see how far I can go with the existing bench.

In my Google-powered research, I learned about something called a Moxon vise. This is a fat board maybe two feet long, with two acme screws in it. You put a screw through each end and mount a dial on the outside, and when you want to hold something, you put it between the board and your bench and tighten the screws.

It’s not rocket science, but it has a following, and to me, it looked a lot easier than performing major surgery so I could install an Eclipse.

Usually, these vises have screws that don’t move. The dials are threaded on the inside, so they move toward the bench as you tighten the vise. That leaves two huge bars of metal hanging out of the bench at waist level at all times, waiting to gouge you every time you walk by.

No. That will not do.

I decided to make a version with screws that turn. That would move everything close to the bench when the vise was closed.

To do this, I needed a fat fixed jaw pretty much flush with the side of the bench, and that meant hacking off the ledge that hung over the side. Here’s a photo of what I did with an ordinary saw from the hardware store, followed by a flush-cut router bit.

07 11 15 bench with cutout for wood vise

I am not great with a router, and the bench top (my reference surface) was not all that flat, so I got a few gouges. But I had to fine-tune it with a scraper and plane anyway, so to a large extent, the gouges went away.

I needed wood for the hole. I had a couple of really ugly two-by-sixes rotting in the backyard, so I cut usable pieces from them jointed and planed them, and glued them together to make one board.

07 11 15 cheesy pine glued up for bench vise jaw

I drilled some holes in them and made recesses for screws, and then I attached them to the bench with lag screws. The result is really nice. I can’t stop looking at it.

07 12 15 moxon vise fixed jaw attached to workbench

I wanted a hardwood moving jaw, for some reason I don’t recall. I paid good money for three feet of maple and then cut it down, removing all the cracked and useless wood that always seems to come with lumber yard items. I plan to drill screw holes in it and add it later.

I also picked up a piece of 36″ threaded rod and two nuts. The usual choice is acme thread, but that’s not available locally, and I saw a piece of 3/4″ 60-degree threaded rod just staring at me at the hardware store, so stupidly, I bought it. Then I found out it won’t work.

I mean, yes, it will work, but the pitch is much finer than the pitch on an acme screw, so it will take a billion turns to open or close the vise a few inches. Also, 60-degree threads don’t work well with half-nuts.

A half-nut is a piece of metal with threads inside it, but they only go 180 degrees. If you took a nut and sawed it in half across the opening, you would have 180 degrees of threads, and you could drop it directly onto a threaded rod and get it to engage. You wouldn’t have to screw it in, because the nut would be open.

If you have two half-nuts, you can close them around a threaded rod in order to get a nut that works. When it’s closed, you can move the rod back and forth through the nut by turning it. When it’s open, you can move the rod freely without turning it. You can use half-nuts for quick-release devices. Open the nut to move the vise jaw (for example) quickly. Close it when you want to use the screw and apply force.

Lathes use half-nuts to move their carriages when machinists thread things. You turn a lever, the nut closes around a turning screw, and the carriage moves as the nut moves up the screw.

A 60-degree thread is sloped, obviously, so when it’s in a half-nut and you push or pull it, some of the force will be transferred outward, and the half-nut will try to open. Acme threads are pretty square, so they are less troublesome.

So now I have 36″ of useless threaded rod. I found acme rod online, and three feet of it are on their way to me now, complete with nuts.

This is too bad, because I had all sorts of neat ideas for a half-nut quick-release mechanism. But if you have acme threads, you don’t need a quick-release mechanism all that badly, because the coarse pitch makes things move pretty quickly as you turn the screw.

A famous woodworker named Paul Sellers has a series of Youtubes showing how to make a workbench top. It’s really not that bad. You plane a few pieces of cheap pine or fir just enough to make glue stick, and then you clamp them side-by-side. Eventually you get enough solid wood to make a benchtop, which you can plane and adjust.

It would be even easier for me, because I have a jointer and planer. I don’t insist on doing stuff by hand.

Nonetheless, I feel I should keep working on the bench I have, because it’s great experience. And if I have a bench that works, it will be there to use when I make a better one.

I have ideas for filling the cracks. I have an idea for a swinging TV arm to move my monitor out of the way when I need to use the whole width of the bench. A tail vise would be nice. Dog holes. A thin hardwood covering for the pine, to make the holes slower to open up and become useless.

It keeps getting better. To add the vise jaw, I had to move my power strip down low, where it should have been to start with. Putting a power strip at waist level sounds smart, but then you bump into it all the time, and you will step on the cords and pull them out.

The vise jaw is really beautiful. It goes to show that you can make very nice things with cheap wood. It looks much better in real life than in the photo. Makes me want to make more things out of inexpensive pine.

The photos show a lot of bright-looking areas. Those are places that have been planed. My planes are amazing; even the cheap one I restored. They whiz along like nobody’s business. I can actually do useful work with them. I am thinking of driving strips of wood into the bench’s cracks and planing them fair with the top.

It’s nice to have tools. It’s even nicer to be able to use them and get results.

If this project goes anywhere, I’ll post more photos. In the meantime, quit watching garbage on TV and eating Cheetos. Turn on Youtube, open a book, and learn a few things.

It won’t kill you.

What’s Worse Than a Dull Saw?

Monday, July 6th, 2015

A Dull Saw Cutting in the Wrong Place

The Garage of Shalom has significance that goes beyond tools.

I turned back to God because I was suffering the consequences of my own mistakes, not because I cared about his kingdom. I wanted to change–a little–but that wasn’t the main thing that motivated me. Mainly, I felt that I was losing when I should win, and I was tired of it.

It wasn’t all that long–maybe a year–before God made me understand that human beings were ruled by iniquity, and that I needed to rid myself of mine. But I still thought a lot about money and succeeding at the things I wanted to do. I believe I saw cleaning myself up largely as a means toward that end. I didn’t see correction as the end.

I would not say I was a mercenary person. If I were, I would be practicing patent law right now. But change was not my top priority.

What I have found is that the more I focus on internal correction, the more things around me become ordered. They matter less, which may seem odd, but they fall into line anyway.

I had a bunch of tools. I had tried getting into tools in fits and stops since about 1985, and things had really taken off in about 2007. I got a big table saw that year. I got a MIG welder. Before too long I had a lathe, and I was thinking about a mill.

I couldn’t really use these tools, though. I hadn’t laid the groundwork. I didn’t have enough storage. I hadn’t spent enough on accessories and dust collection. I spent money on the relatively glamorous stuff and skimped on the boring things that made it all work.

Over the last year or so, correction itself has become the thing I want most, and suddenly, the garage is coming together.

I fixed my planer so it produces almost no dust. I made new parts for my jointer’s fence and finally connected the dust port correctly. I shimmed up my table saw extension so large parts don’t jam when they slide over it. I ordered new wheels for my drill press and band saw so the defective ones that were on the mobile bases wouldn’t cause me problems. I added a new rolling tool box. I got a proper shop press.

Things are moving right along.

Last night I sat in here watching tool Youtubes. This is probably the best use there is for a television set. The educational potential of the Internet is unlimited. It sure beats slumping on a couch with a giant bag of Cheez Doodles, watching imbeciles pretending to be vampires or superheroes.

The thing I love about this place is the peace, and you can’t have that without order. The floor is relatively clean (and I can see it). There are horizontal surfaces around me which are not completely covered with junk. Almost all of my tools are stored properly. The mess is mostly confined to one small area I call “the devil’s corner.” But that corner looks better and better with time.

It’s really something; sitting in a shop I ordered (with God’s help), having total strangers teach me for nothing. It’s so much better than being in the house, thinking about all the things I would be doing with my tools if only…

For a long time, I have been wary of becoming a person who works ON tools instead of working WITH them, but the truth is, you have to work on the tools before you put them to use. Otherwise, you end up working on them while you use them, and in the process, you waste time, damage the things you work on, and get off-mission. Learning as you go is desirable and unavoidable, but when it makes it impossible for you to do the thing you originally showed up to do, it’s too much.

If I say I am a tool, I invite sophomoric remarks, so I will say that I am an instrument. I was created for a use. I can’t do what I was created to do unless I have been aligned and sharpened and cleaned. If I go right to my mission without preparing myself, I’ll do a terrible job, and I am likely to do more harm than good.

To use tools well, I have to fix the tools before I approach the work, and to accomplish my purpose, I have to be repaired and armed to a sufficient degree before I begin. I don’t have to be perfect, but I have to be serviceable.

This is what Jesus meant when he said we had to take the logs out of our own eyes before trying to take splinters out of other people’s eyes. He wasn’t saying we should not judge people. He was saying that we needed to judge ourselves first, so we would see clearly when helping other people.

The “judge not” crowd doesn’t really care about self-righteousness or love. They have two main motivations. The first is to be excused from the conflict that arises when we stand up for what is right. People want to hang around with their ungodly friends and be accepted, so they want an excuse to chicken out; they don’t want to have to speak when someone else is making a mistake. They crave popularity. The other motivation is a desire to keep sinning. They see salvation as a license to use drugs, engage in every type of sexual sin, and generally lead ungodly lives, and they don’t want that taken away from them. They want God’s approval AND a life of sin.

Avoiding conflict, in and of itself, is not a worthy motivation. It’s cowardice. I know; I’ve done it many times. Clothing it in God’s word is even worse.

We are expected to examine ourselves continually and confess our imperfections to God. If we don’t do this, we will have problems. We will get diseases. Many of us will die. We will be defeated and dominated by ungodly people as a matter of routine. We will be like woodworkers who came to work with dull tools. Useless and weak.

Here is what Paul said:

But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.

The reason communion is called “communion” is that it is an opportunity to become like God; to have characteristics in common with him. To be one with him. It’s not about salvation. You can’t be one with God if you are ruled by iniquity. You can’t be free of iniquity unless you confess it and ask him to rid you of it. When you take communion, you’re supposed to judge yourself so you can be improved. If you don’t, God will do it for you, and you don’t want that.

Every one of us has a workshop inside him, and we are supposed to put it in order. We are not supposed to do this alone. God does most of the work. Most of our work is humility, honesty, and faith. You will have a hard time finding anyone in the Bible who impressed God by working hard.

The more work you do on your shop, the more you can do with it.

People who aren’t ready for money beg God for money and try to force his hand with moronic prosperity offerings. People who aren’t ready for spouses beg God for them. Women who have no business having babies beg God for children. We don’t spend much time asking God to make us ready for the good things we want. We practice the Miley Cyrus version of Christianity: give me money and power while I’m still a child, so I can destroy myself and become a notorious idiot.

Peace doesn’t come from money or achievement. It doesn’t come from marriage or raising kids. It comes from submission to God. You should put inner correction at the top of your wish list, if you want to receive the things that are on the top of it now. Otherwise, they will be curses to you.

I look forward to seeing the good things that come from accepting correction, but what I really want is the correction itself. If I have that, my other needs will be taken care of, because I will be the kind of person God can trust with good things.

If you look at scripture, you will find that this advice lines up with it, so quit sending money to TV preachers and practicing positive thinking. Those things don’t work in the long run. Do what God actually told us to do. That ought to work, shouldn’t it?

My church is about to rent a new building. I think it’s a terrible idea. A big house in Miami will have an electric bill of four to five hundred dollars a month. It costs money to mow grass and trim hedges. Everything costs money. The new church is probably as large as five big houses, and our attendance is getting smaller. I know of a big family that won’t be with us much longer. Where will the cash come from? You don’t move to a bigger building when attendance is shrinking. Someone has to pay for it.

On top of that, renting is slavery. You’re paying someone else’s mortgage. You’re buying someone else a building. You can’t leave. You can’t stop paying. You serve the landlord and his property manager.

People think mortgages are unavoidable. Is that true? Does that sound like faith? Is God unable to give us money to buy things outright? Perry Stone has a huge ministry, and he pays for things up front. Is his God better than yours?

I know an excuse when I hear one. A lease is better than nothing, but it is far from optimal, and it should be considered a sign that you’re doing something wrong.

We want the big building, but we don’t want to listen to correction. The music needs to be turned down. The services are too long. There isn’t nearly enough prayer. Very few people are praying in tongues. There is no discernment. There is no self-judgment. We have no foundation, but we think we can build a big temple.

Yesterday we were told that we will have to give more. Actually, we don’t have to do anything. And we can’t. Most people in the church are poor, and because they accept the prosperity gospel instead of God’s keys to prosperity, many are going to stay poor. How are they going to pay a four-figure electricity bill plus rent plus salaries? We have services where about forty adults show up. Something like forty percent of the church’s most devoted volunteers tithe. Can sixteen or twenty people of low to moderate income support a big building?

We don’t have the kind of gifted speakers who can pack churches. We don’t have a music team that can keep people happy for ninety minutes. A churchgoer may not mind listening to certain speakers with rare talents talk for two hours, but we don’t have anyone like that. Our music team doesn’t rehearse much, so, to be brutally honest, they’re doing a C job, and the volume level gives people headaches and tinnitus. We don’t examine ourselves, so we keep doing things that hurt attendance. But somehow we expect people to fill a new church. They’re not filling the one we have!

Is that unbelief? No, it’s honesty and clarity. Yes, Moses and the Hebrews crossed the Red Sea when things looked impossible, but they didn’t jump in on their own initiative. They waited for God to send them. You can’t expect God to support you when you’re wandering around in a place where he never sent you.

Imagine what would have happened had Paul disobeyed the Holy Spirit and gone into Asia Minor to teach. He probably would have been tortured to death, and no one would have been converted. You can’t draft your own mission. It doesn’t work that way.

We don’t examine ourselves, so we’re walking into a trap. Maybe God will pull us out of it in spite of ourselves, but I almost hope not, because that would encourage us to continue being proud and unteachable in the future. If you want to hurt a wino, don’t drive past him with your windows up. Pull over and give him a hundred dollars. He’ll be lucky if he survives the night.

I can’t reach everyone. Maybe I can reach you. I know it will pay off for you. It’s paying off for me.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

Sunday, June 28th, 2015

But if You Don’t Try, You Can’t Even Get What You Need

The workshop is really taking shape, and that’s good, because outer order is a reflection of inner order.

What to talk about first?

I got a jack plane. This is supposedly the most versatile hand plane there is, and people say this is where the “jack” name comes from, as in “jack of all trades.” Don’t ask me if the story about the name is true. Google for yourself.

I found it on Ebay, because buying tools in South Florida is about as easy as hiring people who speak English. You can pretty much expect to pay $75, including shipping, for a decent old plane, so I bit the bullet and found one. It sounds bad, but a new plane of similar quality will be in the low three figures.

The plane was in great shape, but it was impossible to make it work, because the edge was not square to the side of the blade. You can move a blade around in a plane to level it, but if it’s off by more than a few degrees, it won’t help. I had to sit and shape this thing with a diamond stone, after trying to do preliminary roughing on the belt grinder.

The good news is that I’m good at hand sharpening, so it came out swell. Next time, I think I’ll get creative and use my oscillating belt/spindle sander. This is a woodworking tool, but there is no reason why you can’t use it for crude metal jobs, and it happens to be very easy to hold things parallel to the belt or spindle.

Thought of that after I was already done.

Here’s the jack plane doing its thing. I am quite pleased.

06 18 15 stanley 5 plane with corrected bevel making shavings

I also fixed my jointer/planer.

When I started trying to do woodworking, I bought a DeWalt 735 planer, which I discussed here recently. This thing is wonderful. Buy one. It doesn’t really plane wood. If you have a piece of wood with one side that has already been planed flat, you put the wood down on that side and run it through the planer, and it will give you another flat side parallel to the first. If the bottom is wavy, it will give you a wavy side parallel to it, and that’s why you can’t really say it planes things. Planing means flattening.

To plane things, you need a jointer. It will put one flat side on anything, and if you already have one flat side, it will give you another one at an angle to it. Generally, that angle is 90°, but if your planer has a fence that rotates, you can get other angles.

I was able to do surface jointing on the planer, using a homemade sled. I was able to do edge jointing on the table saw. But that was not ideal. So I invested in a new jointer. As it happened, the jointer I bought will also work as a planer, but I don’t need that function, so I don’t use it. It’s a Rikon 10″ combination machine, based on an old model made by the Inca company. It’s very small and light, but it will handle boards 10″ wide, which is incredible. Ordinarily, a 10″ jointer is a giant cast iron beast that takes up half a garage. My machine is a little over 40″ long, and it weighs 140 pounds.

I had never set the jointer up correctly, because I used the wrong manual. I am too lazy to get up and look at the actual paper manual, which may very well be correct, but the PDF manual I had was wrong or at least useless. Last week I downloaded a newer one, and I found out I had the dust collection hooked up hilariously wrong. I fixed that, and then I decided to adjust the fence. When I tried to do that, the little bracket that holds it broke. It’s pot metal. It’s also about 0.090″ thick, which means it’s about as sturdy as a saltine.

I’m a machinist! I’m not scared of broken parts! I machined a little piece to fix it. Then I tried to reattach the bracket, and the other side broke.


I decided to make a new bracket out of 2 1/2″ aluminum pipe and some crap I had lying around. It was a fascinating ordeal. I found out how hard it is to cut pipes accurately on a milling machine. But I succeeded. Here are some photos. Mind you, it could be improved in some obvious ways, but it works perfectly as it is, and I am not eager to get back to work on it right now.

06 23 15 rikon jointer fence with aluminum pipe mocked up

06 24 15 aluminum pipe being milled in half for jointer

06 25 15 rikon jointer with new fence support installed

I fired it up, and it’s fantastic. Unlike most wood machines, it’s quiet. It works well. It’s very safe, as jointers go, which is like saying it’s like the least-crazy Kardashian sister, but still.

Now I can joint wood.

I also fixed the dust collection on the planer. Someone told me she collected the shredded wood using a simple burlap bag, so I ordered one on Ebay and tried it. I paid five bucks. I could not find a burlap bag around here without spending that much on diesel.

I attached the bag and did some planing (not really planing), and when I picked the bag up, there was a pile of dust under it.

I gave up and ordered a Powertec 3-micron dust collector bag, model 75006. It arrived a day or two ago, and it’s wonderful. I fastened it to the hose with a hose clamp, and when I ran the machine, absolutely nothing visible escaped, except for the bits that inevitably fall out of the machine itself. Those are no problem to deal with.

The Harbor Freight stand I bought is wobbly, so I Ebayed some M6 hex bolts to replace the stupid Philips screws that came with it. I replaced 16 of the 32 screws yesterday, and I will finish the rest this week. You can tighten a hex bolt more than a Philips screw, so I expect the added friction to put an end to the scissory motion of the stand’s joints.

Now the workshop was all fixed, right? WRONG, sliding table saw breath.

I miss Carnak.

I was fooling with the wood band saw, and I tried to resaw something with a 3/4″ blade. Crud came off the blade onto the wood, leaving black stripes. There was something on the blade. I looked inside the saw and noticed (I almost wrote “saw”) black goo on the tires. I tried to scrape it off, and I used various solvents, but it seemed to be very deep. Eventually I noticed that one tire had a big gap in it, so the goo was the only thing holding it on the rim.

I ordered two Grizzly tires for it (OEM parts), and when they arrived, I took the wheels out, figuring the old tires would come right off. No, sorry. They had turned into some kind of cheese which was stuck to the iron like rat paper on a particularly sticky rat. I had to scrape them off in crumb form, and then I had to rub the wheels with lacquer thinner to melt the bits that wouldn’t come off. Unbelievable.

06 26 15 cheese instead of tires on band saw wheels

When I was done and the wheels were back on the machine, some guy told me Grizzly tires were worthless, and that I could expect them to turn into sponges. Great. But for now, they work.

Today I used the tools. I am determined to make a box, just to prove I can make something. I used the jointer and the table saw, which now has new caster brackets AND a new dedicated dust hose. It was like heaven. The jointer ran perfectly, and the dust collection sort of worked. The table saw hose was much easier to deal with than the old one. Things just fell into place.

I have a bunch of little rough mahogany boards I cut from fresh wood I found in a trash pile, and I also have some leftover walnut from a guitar body. The mahogany has a lot of figuring in it, and I was trying to find a way to use it. Finally I decided to try to add visual interest by making the box from boards which were, themselves, made from strips of contrasting wood. If you joint wood nicely, you can glue strips of it side by side, and they will be as sturdy as a homogeneous board.

Here is what I have right now.

06 28 15 striped board being glued together from mahogany

I have to come up with four more sides. The bottom can be plain.

I can’t tell you how great it is to see my tools work correctly, without aggravation or explosions. I know this comes from learning to love inner correction. I was held back because I didn’t get it. If you don’t love correction, don’t expect God to give you success. You may have something that looks like success to you, but it won’t be. Not unless God has completely given up on teaching you.

Two nights ago while I was trying to fall asleep, I saw a bunch of answers to my organization problems. I saw a way to hang my lathe chucks from the shop trusses, on a gadget I can turn on the lathe, from a piece of scrap I just happen to have waiting. I saw a way to build a box to mount on the lathe headstock, to hold the tools I use most often. I saw a way to build a rolling cabinet to hold my CNC lathe, the control box, and all the lathe’s tooling. All this stuff just came to me. Some of it may even work!

Determination is better than nothing, but the best success comes from being blessed. If you want to apply determination to something truly productive, apply it to prayer.

I still want a few more doodads. Maybe a router plane and a tongue and groove plane. Bench dogs; I think I have a design which would be a lot better than the ones they sell online. I can use a few more items, but I am aware that the biggest profit will come from maximizing what I already have.

If you have a Rikon joiner/planer, get rid of the fence bracket before it blows up while you’re using it. My design will work for you, and it’s fairly easy to copy from photos, but you can do just as well by clamping a piece of aluminum extrusion to the table, after cutting a cavity on one side to accommodate the cutters.

If…WHEN…I get somewhere with the box project, I will post photos.

I guess I should add that I quit my church’s volunteer team. I am not a deacon or armorbearer now. People are noticing a change in the church’s direction; I’m not the only one. Unlike me, they won’t say anything, so when the crisis comes, it will seem sudden to the people in charge. Nothing I can do. I have been withdrawn, so I am not permitted to counsel anyone, and if I did, no one would listen. Which is why I’m not allowed. God will not let me do it. He pulled me back to a peaceful place, and I am not going to mess that up by running back to the front line.

I mind my own business. I arrived after worship started today, and I left at 1:15, after two hours. I checked at 2:00, and church was still going.

The volunteers had a meeting at 7:00 a.m., so had I not quit, I would have been there for at least seven hours!

I’ve been to these meetings in the past, when church started at 10:30. We were told to come at 8:00. I would wake up at 5:30 or 6:00 in order to have time to pray, so I would have to go to bed on Saturday by 8:30 p.m. I would be at church at 8:00 a.m. Almost no one else would come until 8:30, because the volunteers had no respect for other people’s time. The meetings would start at 8:45. We would talk in circles for an hour, or the pastor would give the people a very long lecture which a lot of us didn’t need. For example, he would lecture us on responsibility, and the responsible people had to sit through it. Or he would lecture people on punctuality and attendance, when the only people who were there were the ones who didn’t need the lecture. They were there, after all. Then we would sit around and do nothing.

One thing that extended the service today was a very long appeal for money. The church is trying to start an orphanage in Haiti. They’re nagging people to buy tickets to a banquet. I think this is a dead end and a waste of time. The Mercy and Sharing Foundation has a great orphanage going already, and they spend 100% of contributions on the kids. They pay the administration costs themselves. I would rather send the money to someone who already has buildings, employees, contacts, and a track record.

The pastors brother in law showed us a video and begged us to give money. I mean begged. To me, it seemed like a guilt trip. Charity is very important to me, but I never, never respond to guilt trips, because manipulation has been a source of great pain in my life. I don’t mean to be obnoxious, but this is the same man who runs the men’s ministry, which isn’t going anywhere. He runs the church’s building drive, which isn’t going anywhere. We have an Indiegogo page and some T-shirts. When God wanted Nehemiah to build the temple, he didn’t have him sell T-shirts. He sent a man to pay for it. The way to get a new building is to show love and consideration to people who come to church, and to teach them to pray. It seems like they hope a millionaire will walk in and write them a check. That’s not how it works. They don’t need a millionaire. They need two hundred ordinary people who give steadily, and they need to manage the money correctly.

Some people in the church seem to think I’m rich because I’m not on welfare and my used pickup truck is paid for, and sometimes I sense that people want me to wave my magic checkbook and buy them what they think they need. I bought a used organ, and the head deacon asked me when I was going to give it to the church. I said, “never.” When I located it on Craigslist, they couldn’t get it together long enough to chip in and go get it, so I bought it for myself. I did the work. I paid. My organ. They had some sort of need a while back, and one of the deacons said I should handle it. I asked why, and he said, “Because you’re the man with the money.” Oh, really?

That’s how poor people think about money. They think other people get it magically, and they’re supposed to give it to everyone who has less, on demand, because that’s fair. That’s not how it works. God is fairer than I am, and he doesn’t do that. God is an investor. He doesn’t give money to people who can’t handle it, and neither will I.

The organ was never a possibility. They’re killing attendance with noise already. I don’t want to make it worse. I was going to make them another guitar amp, but I’m afraid to let them have it. They would injure everyone in the church.

At the end of the service, they honored the pastors with free dinners at Tejas de Brazil (a very expensive and mediocre restaurant) plus tickets to a spa. The people at my church love spas. They’re always giving the pastors spa tickets. I don’t get it, personally. I think it’s odd to let strangers rub grease on you and put things between your toes, and it’s boring to sit and do nothing, but they’re entitled to like what they like.

I think the presentation was a bad move. The pastors’ daughter and son in law came down recently for a week of recreation, and then the pastors went with them to their home in Buffalo. A week later, they came back, and then they took off for Chicago. Now we’re pampering them as though they had been working too hard.

The church is only open a few hours a week, and the rest of the time, we see social media posts showing that the pastors are taking it easy. No one is at church.

People are complaining that they work long hours and then see Facebook posts about the pastors taking trips, going to restaurants, shopping, and walking on beaches. We don’t see them repairing the church, evangelizing, or doing whatever it is you expect pastors to do during the week. People ask where the money for tickets and so on come from. Attendance is bad, and that’s to be expected when the pastors aren’t around.

Sorry to see it happen. I can’t save the world.

So far I have missed one Sunday service and one Tuesday prayer session. People keep coming up to me and asking where I’ve been. They think I’ve quit. I’ve been there more than the pastors have! We have a house prophet, and he’s the most honored person there except for the head pastors. Over the last year, he has probably missed a third of the services, and he routinely comes late. It’s very odd that people are so alarmed when I miss two events.

Usually there are only two of us at the Tuesday session, so of course, everyone else thinks I’m AWOL. They didn’t see me because they didn’t come.

I don’t think I’ll go on Tuesday nights any more. If only two people are going to pray, I might as well pray at home, save 36 miles of wear on the truck, and avoid an hour and fifteen minutes of unpleasant traffic.

I feel very free. I feel like I was trying to do an impossible job and my boss told me to let it go. People are worried about me, but I sleep better, I’m losing weight, and I no longer have to drag people who refuse to walk. Sometimes churches develop a cult mentality, and they think that if you disengage, your life must be screwed up, but this time, the problem is on the other end.

Today someone talked to me and said she had been praying for me. She said, “We need you.” I know she meant to be nice, but that’s a pet peeve of mine. When people left my old church, they always sent people after them to tell them how much the church needed them. They never asked the people who left what they needed. She’s a wonderful lady, but she said exactly the wrong thing. Let the organization burn. The people are what matter.

I agree; they need me. And when I was a kid, I needed vegetables and exercise. But I chose ice cream and TV.

I could be helpful to the church, but they would have to listen, and that’s not going to happen. So telling me they need me isn’t addressing the important issue. I don’t care what they need. I care about what they are willing to receive. I’m not a Gitmo guard. I don’t force-feed people. I can’t.

Things get better and better. It’s all about humility and correction. I’m thrilled that I managed to share this to a few receptive people. The rest…what can you do?

Face Front

Monday, June 15th, 2015

No Seconds on Vomit

Lots of interesting things are happening.

First off, my Woodriver #92 shoulder plane arrived, along with an offset router wrench.

06 13 15 woodriver plane and router offset wrench

Routers connected to tables are hard to reach with wrenches because the collet nuts are below the tables’ surfaces. What you really need is a wrench with two 90° angles in it. The first angle puts the head of the wrench below the table, and the second one makes it horizontal so it engages the nut. I was going to make my own wrench some day (right), but Woodcraft has prefab offset wrenches on sale, so I got one. It’s amazing. I love it. For around ten bucks, I saved myself a day of aggravation.

As for the plane, I have already told my sad tale regarding the Stanley 92 I bought. The blade was too narrow. The only safe bet is a new plane from a reputable maker, and they are not cheap. Lie-Nielsen makes insanely expensive stuff that works perfectly. Veritas makes excellent stuff that is slightly less expensive. Woodcraft’s Woodriver brand is very good, but it’s Chinese, so it’s cheaper.

I went Chinese. What the heck.

The plane is magnificent. It’s ground from solid lumps of iron. Everything is square. The grinding is much finer than the grinding on the Stanley, which looked like I made it myself. The blade is a tiny bit wider than the body. It’s great. I love it. I’m sure spending more money would have paid off in some way or other, but this is a beautiful tool.

I’ve been thinking about workbenches. My current bench is something I threw together from plywood, two–by-fours, and four-by-fours, before I really knew what I was doing. It’s extremely sturdy, but the top isn’t flat, and it’s not optimal for woodworking.

I considered ripping the top off and putting a real woodworking top on it, complete with a woodworking vise, but I think that’s stupid. I can put holes in it to hold bench dogs for various operations, and I have a Rockwell Jawhorse to hold wood for planing and other stuff, so I don’t really have to have a perfect woodworking bench. I think.

In other news, I am now capable of hand-sharpening things.

When I was a kid, I loved playing with knives, and my parents didn’t care, so I got good at sharpening things. This weekend I had to deal with planes and chisels, and I tried to find the best way to tackle it.

A lot of people use jigs. If you Google “General plane sharpening jig,” you’ll see an example. These things hold blades at precise angles to stones, so the edges produced are straight and accurate.

Other people use bench grinders and align things by hand.

I have a grinder set up for lathe tools, with a white aluminum oxide wheel. This thing is wonderful for its purpose. I put a little homemade jig on it, and it works great. But when I tried to use it for planes and chisels, it gave me crooked results, and little bits of the edges turned blue, meaning they had gotten hot and lost their temper.

Frustrated, I got out my DMT diamond stones. I have them in fine, extra-fine, and 8000-grit. I found that if I held a blade down carefully with my bare hand, I could correct and sharpen edges pretty quickly, without buying jigs and megadollar Japanese water stones.

A long time ago, my dad borrowed a chisel. God only knows what he used it for. Maybe scraping paint off a brick. He left it out in the rain for weeks. Yesterday I decided to fix it.

I held it down on a stone and ground it until it lined up with a machinist’s square. I used WD40 to keep the stone from loading up. Surprisingly, it sharpened easily, and I got a great result. I lapped the back side, and I finished it on the 8000 stone. When I was done, it was shaving-sharp.

06 14 15 Buck Brothers chisel sharpened on DMT stone

I don’t have to buy a bunch of junk and store it. I don’t have to worry about conditioning waterstones whenever I use them. Hooray! Very nice.

I fine-tuned the Woodriver plane blade, which was already fairly sharp. I stuck some wood in the Jawhorse and started using my planes. I couldn’t stop. It was so neat, seeing wide, clear curls coming off the wood. This actually works.

I’m getting a few other things. I watched a DVD by a guy named Frank Klausz, and he made dovetails using hand tools, very quickly. That opened my eyes. Most people use a router. You can also use a bandsaw. Honestly, power tool dovetails are a big pain, and when you use power tools, you always have to worry that something is going to jump out and damage you, the work, or your other tools. If I can dovetail a drawer in half an hour using a hand saw, I’m all for it.

Klausz showed how to take a fairly cheap dovetail saw and tune it up in a few minutes. You can’t use them the way they come from the store. I thought that was neat. But then I learned about Zona tools!

Zona makes small tools for model makers. One of their tools is a tiny dovetail saw. It costs around ten bucks. You don’t have to fettle it. You take it out of the box and start cutting. How can you go wrong? I ordered one. They also make excellent coping saw blades, so I ordered a coping saw. CHEAP! We’ll see how that works out. Why spend a hundred or more bucks on a fancy saw that isn’t any better?

On the spiritual side, I had an interesting experience yesterday.

As I believe I’ve said, I quit serving at my church a while back. I got off their Facebook groups, because they kept typing things like, “PLEASE DELETE THIS POST!!!” They didn’t call or text. They didn’t come to me privately. They just typed things like that, in front of kids and people I’m supposed to lead.

Mind you, I am older than most of the church leaders. I have much more education. I never remind them of those things, but come on.

One post was about a new rule. I was guarding the office door when they counted the offering, and someone made a rule saying no one was allowed in unless I let them in. This offended people, so I went to the church’s FB page and explained it. Nicely. Really, there was nothing wrong with what I said. Trust me. But later on…”PLEASE DELETE THIS POST!!!”

When things like that happen, you realize something supernatural is going on. When you absolutely cannot please someone, a spirit is involved.

Yesterday, I came in and sat in the back. I was in God’s presence, and I was worshiping, but I realized something was bugging me. I looked around, and I realized that in front of me, in various parts of the room, at eye level, women’s rear ends were waving at me. They do that. Many of the women wave their rear ends when they worship, and some wear really tight pants. It’s a bad idea. Obvious?

You can say it’s my fault for being lustful, but that’s stupid. Being tempted is not a sin. If it is, then Jesus is in hell, because he was tempted. You decide. No heterosexual man, holy though he be, will be unaffected by a display like that.

In fact, our pastor’s wife agrees with me. A while back, she posted this: “Ladies: tights are not pants.”

Anyway, I posted this observation:

If you sit in the front row in church you look proud, but if you sit in the back you see all the women dancing in tight pants.

Now, you can decide whether that post is offensive. It’s not, but you will have an opinion. It’s obvious. It’s a problem men deal with. Paul talked about it, saying a woman should even keep her head covered in church.

A lady piped up and said this, revealing that she had no comprehension of what I had said:

I strongly believe this post is not edifying to anyone. Mature christians know how to refrain from speaking this way and instead pray n ask God to guide your own eyes. In shock

“In shock.” That’s what I get. I don’t have the authority to say women should not display their rear ends in church. I don’t have the authority to mention the office rule, so I guess this is not a surprise.

Here is what the pastor’s wife said:

Can’t believe this conversation during our worship time !! Amazing !! Pastora

You have to think about this. I quit bothering them on their page. I quit sharing testimony and revelation on Facebook, almost entirely, because God told me I was wasting it on people who didn’t care. That was great. It was relaxing to be freed. But yesterday, people came to me. Withdrawing from their area of control and showing them respect didn’t make any difference.

Someone said it was interesting that she was on Facebook, criticizing people for being on Facebook. The truth is that everyone Facebooks during services, including worship. The pastors are no exception. This is normal. So the problem wasn’t the Facebooking. It wasn’t even the content, since modesty is something she is also concerned about. The problem is me. It’s who I am. The fact that it came from Steve is the problem.

Remember the Holocaust? The Jews blamed themselves. They tried to assimilate in Germany, even before Hitler came to power. Then when things got bad, they pleaded and tried to please the Nazis. They tried to work within the system.

The restrictions and persecution got worse and worse. The smart Jews left. The rest were shot or sent to starve and burn. Why? Because they were greedy? Because they were arrogant? Because they were successful? Of course not. It was because they belonged to God.

When you become one of God’s favorites, you become a favorite of the devil, too. You may get God to cut off his favor, but you will probably never be able to get the devil to stop working on you. God pulls back from useless people, but the devil loves cruelty and death, so once he gets you down, he keeps kicking.

If people are angry at you because of your anointing, there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. Stop looking at yourself when you haven’t done anything wrong. It’s not your fault. You didn’t cause it, and you can’t fix it. It’s normal. It is how the rest of your life will be.

The problem isn’t the way I say things. I’m not rude, and besides, you can say things to humble people any way you want. The prophets were unbelievably blunt and harsh, and they are revered. In their time, they were murdered and beaten, but now they’re revered. The problem is the pride of the people I tried to talk to. I’ve had plenty of harsh, rude, criticism from church people–much of it wrong and misguided–and I have not responded the way they have.

Our church has a heavy-duty pride problem, so God has pulled me back. Most people there won’t understand, because, hello, they have pride.

Putting an end to my public revelations won’t help them. That’s not God’s intention. His intention is to help me. It will be harmful to me to keep casting pearls before swine, and I will be wasted on them. It will make me bitter and frustrated. Iniquity is contagious, like mold.

We’ve had a number of false prophecies, and the church is not growing. The branch churches we opened disappeared, and there has been no public admission. Things that should be explored are covered up. That’s a recipe for failure.

After three years, it’s obvious that I won’t be used there, and there are definitely people in the world who will be able to benefit from what I have to offer, so I’m not allowed to strive with the same old crowd any more.

I’m a deacon, or I used to be. Here’s what I did: every Sunday I stood outside the office door. That’s 98% of what I did. It’s not like they were getting a lot of use from me. I didn’t teach. I wasn’t one of the people who is called up to pray for folks in services. I was on the prayer line for a while, but that’s open to anyone who shows up. Whatever it is that I was put there to do, it has not happened.

I did not fight back at all on Facebook. Some of my friends were mad, and they stuck up for me, but I behaved pretty well.

My natural instinct is to start posting correction, but I was in prayer about it today, and God did not like that idea. It would be rebellious.

For weeks, I’ve been praying for God to take the proud people out of my life and bring me humble people. I was proud all my life, and I shut God out. Now I’ve finally learned to love correction, but I’m surrounded by people who are just like I used to be. I deserve it. I sowed for this. But now I want out.

I prayed for God to take proud people away from me, and look what’s happening.

I never used to think of these people as proud. It blew right by me. I did not understand what pride was. But now I see it. And a friend called me to say God had given this word in private, regarding the church: “Arrogance.” The friend was disturbed. It was not what the friend wanted to hear. The friend wanted to believe the best. But this is what God said.

If I go on social media and start yammering, I will be saying, “God, you did exactly what I asked, and now I feel like fighting you. You very graciously showed me the proud people in my life, and you came between us, and now I want to go back and work on them, because I know better than you do.”

If I do that, why should he ever do anything for me again?

When I was a kid, I knew a battered wife. I felt terrible for her. But even then, I knew that she chose what happened to her. When she got away, she went back. If you keep going back to people who have no respect for you, you are your own enemy. You are even more guilty than they are, because you, more than anyone, have an obligation to be on your own side in life.

So I said nothing that could be construed as engaging the Facebook attack.

When God generously, graciously, patiently frees you from something counterproductive, you do not go back. You do not. How many times do you think he will save you?

I don’t put much of anything on Facebook, unless it’s about tools or food or trivial stuff. It’s a complete waste of time. What I wrote yesterday was an exception to my new pattern.

I’m writing here, though. This is my domain, literally. Anyone who comes here uninvited and makes trouble is intruding on my authority. I will not be stifled here, and I will not let anyone comment stupidly.

Posting things here is like writing them on paper and hiding it in a drawer. No one from Miami reads my blog. They’re not interested in what I say in person, so they won’t come here to read it.

I hope God keeps sending me people who will benefit from what he tells me. It is not possible to bless proud people. It cannot be done, because all real blessing comes through listening. Only humble people can be blessed.

I’ve done a lot of slimy, disgusting things in my life. I am not a good person. But it is not right for younger people who are unaccomplished and have limited prayer lives to treat me like a child, especially after telling me I’m a watchman and a prophet.

I plan to keep going to my church, sitting in the back and leaving after a couple of hours so I won’t get worn out. Sooner or later I’ll end up in a new church, and I will not volunteer for anything. I will not speak in front of people. I will not accept any office.

God doesn’t really run churches. They are extensions of the world. It is pointless to try to fit in. I’m sure there is an exception out there somewhere, but I have not seen it yet.

Keep praying in tongues. If you can’t pray in tongues, keep praying for God to show you how. Keep asking for humility. Keep asking God to destroy your pride and help you to be honest. These are the things that will fix your life and heal your heart and mind. The other stuff–the money and houses and so on–will only be curses to you unless you become the kind of person who can receive a blessing.

Forget transferring your worldly ambition and work ethic to the church. Those things are for Satan’s children. Our tools are faith, honesty, love, and humility. Don’t listen to foolish blowhards who think God has chosen them simply because they’ve managed to get people to come listen to them every week.

When God removes toxic people from your life, thank him and get with the program. Do not go back to your own vomit. If you didn’t like it the first time you ate it, the second time will be even worse.

Life is good, and it will keep getting better. I can’t take everyone with me. I accept that. Jesus couldn’t do it either. I will be happy with whoever shows up and takes the right attitude.

The Truth Can’t be any Planer

Thursday, June 11th, 2015

Something New: Tools That Work

You’re probably wondering how to handle the chips and dust from your DeWalt DW735 portable (HA!) planer, now that DeWalt has stopped making the dust collection attachment.

I wondered, too. I bought my DeWalt years ago, and I have used it very little because it was inconvenient. It weighs over a hundred pounds. To use it, I had to pick it up off the floor and lift it onto my Workmate. After clearing seventy or eighty pounds of junk off the Workmate. Then I would turn it on and go deaf, and chips would shoot all over the place.

A responsible person does not buy tools without the required accessories and storage. I know that NOW. I needed a stand and a dust system.

I still don’t have a dust collector. I am not sold on them. Yes, obviously, it would be fantastic to have a bunch of 4″pipes running all over the garage, connecting to every tool. But that is a gigantic amount of work and expense, and it looks like it’s not necessary. The table saw does just fine with a shop-vac. So does the router. So do the bench grinder and oscillating spindle sander. The drill press is impossible to rig up for dust collection. That leaves the vertical band saw, and I’m not sure a dust collector would fix it.

I don’t think I need a full-blown dust system–feeble pun not intended–but I should make some sort of effort. And the planer needed to be on a moving platform so I would not have to risk ER visits by lifting it from the floor.

I have become convinced that bench tools are stupid. For the most part. Think about it. You buy a bench drill press to save space. Where do you put it? On the bench. Where it takes up space. Or you put it on the floor. Where it takes up the same amount of space as a floor press, but you can’t use it without getting down on your knees.

Bench tools take up just as much room as floor tools, so you might as well buy floor tools or put bases on your bench tools.

DeWalt makes a nice rolling stand for the planer, but I didn’t like it. It would cost over $150, for 12 pieces of Chinese steel, four wheels, and a slab of MDF. And it had no bottom shelf for a dust bag or whatever. If you rig it for a shelf, you have to put the pedal that unlocks the wheels out where it takes up room. I opted for the He-Man’s choice: Harbor Freight. They make a table that costs $40, plus a mobile base that costs slightly less.

Don’t do what I did. The table is wobbly, so if you want it to be rigid, you will have to add additional steel, which is a pain. The base requires four pieces of 1 1/4″ square lumber to connect the four corners, and because that’s a weird size, you will have to cut the wood yourself. Big mess. The instructions are horrible. I hope the guy who wrote them also writes documentation for China’s nuclear weapons.

The table has no top, so you have to buy plywood and make one, and that’s also a pain. The sanded plywood from Home Depot is sanded in the same sense that club soda is pre-sweetened, so you will have to go back over it, and then you will have to hit it pretty hard with Danish oil or something.

Just buy the DeWalt stand.

Anyway, after three days of work, I got the stand assembled and mounted the planer on it. It works, but I can’t get the wobbles out of it, so I know some metalworking is in my future.

I got the idea for this project a few weeks after I finally threw out the old hose from my shop-vac (I had upgraded to a nice orange hose), so I had to pay $20 for a new hose. Never throw anything out, because the minute you do, you will need it or someone will offer you a thousand dollars for it. On the other hand, grow up and throw things out, because clutter is unhealthy.

You can’t win. I know I haven’t.

If you have the same planer, you will benefit from my dust-collection efforts. I found a 2″ flexible pipe coupling at Home Depot, and I used it to connect it to the 2 1/2″ port on the DeWalt’s dust attachment. You may wonder why a 2″ connector fits on a 2 1/2″ port. I do, too.

I connected the other end of the coupling to the vacuum hose. Then I put a hose clamp over the other and of the hose. When I finally get a dust bag (still working on it), I will slip the dust bag’s collar under the hose clamp and tighten it. The planer has an incredible fan in it, so it will blow the crap through the hose, even though it’s narrow, and it will go into the bag.

One guy on the web uses a pillow case to catch the chips. Supposedly the planer doesn’t make much fine dust, so you can use a crummy filter bag. But I am trying to find something better. Might as well get rid of as much dust as possible.

I will want to put a lower shelf in the stand, to hold the bag. After that, I should be in business.

A planer is a wonderful thing. You can’t use the wood you buy at the store until you plane and joint it, and a planer performs both functions. You will need a planer sled to make it joint, but that’s no big deal. If you put a Wixey DRO on it, you can thickness (“planer” is really a misnomer) wood with great accuracy, and you won’t have to do much sanding at all. If you don’t have a planer and jointer, you will need to get very handy with hand planes, which is not a bad idea, but still.

Speaking of hand planes, as noted in an earlier post, I rehabilitated one last month, and I am adding some new ones to my collection. I seem to have the skill to get old planes going, so I might as well pick up a few.

To make a plane work well, you need an edge like a razor, so you will want water stones or, if you’re a hack like me, a super-fine diamond stone. Anyway, if you can get planes to work, you can avoid a lot of dust, expense, and noise. Machines replace skill and effort, but they come with their own problems.

For jointing, you want a #7 plane or bigger. I don’t have one, but I do look around on Ebay. It’s also nice to have a shoulder plane. It fine-tunes tenons, and you can cut slots with it. IF you can find one that works. Stanley makes one that seems okay until you try to use it. I am referring to the #92. The problem with it is that the blade is narrower than the body. That means you can’t cut all the way to the side, so you can forget cutting a slot, which has to be cut on both sides. I bought a Stanley, and the blade was 0.007″ narrower than the body, so there was no way to make it work. I sent it back, and now I’m waiting for a Woodriver medium shoulder plane. This is the cheapest new shoulder plane that actually works.

You can buy ordinary planes (smoothing, jack, jointer, and so on) used without much fear, but shoulder planes are a pain in the butt, so you might as well grit your teeth and spend for a new one.

I don’t actually know how to USE these things, but I am going to put in a little effort, now that I have learned how to obtain them and make them function.

I guess I went down a rabbit trail there. Sorry.

I got the planer set up tonight, and I am really happy about it. Having stuff is fine, but if you’re not aligned with God’s will, your stuff won’t work, or it won’t bring you pleasure. Now that I’m getting with it, things are going more smoothly, and the things that are happening in the garage are exemplary.

Correction keeps pouring into me, and I am more grateful for it every day. I know, and feel in my heart, that inner correction is the blessing we are supposed to be seeking. We clamor for money, houses, and even sex, but we reject the opportunity to become like the God we beg for favors. No wonder he doesn’t help us.

The devil was cursed for saying, “I will be like the most high,” in his own heart. The funny thing is, we are blessed for saying the same thing. Satan wanted to be like God in that he wanted to be admired. He wanted to be all-powerful. He wanted to punish. We are supposed to be like God in that we love and forgive. We are supposed to have his humility and kindness. If you want God to do things for you on earth, you have to say, in your heart, “I will be like the most high.”

The idiots on TV are trying to convince us that power and wealth will come just because we go to church, send preachers money, and recite Bible promises. If you were God, would you subsidize that garbage? Of course not. It would be like continuing to send your college-student son an allowance after he told you he had become a dope dealer.

You don’t get blessed because you’ve changed. The change IS the blessing. After that, the other things–money, houses, and so on–can’t hurt you. They can’t spoil you. So God has no reason to withhold them, and you just might get them. After all, Jesus gave us instructions for getting wealth: seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. He didn’t say anything about buying Creflo Dollar a jet.

I still can’t write about these things on social media. Today I wanted to say something. I at least wanted to warn people. I wanted to say that the reason I quit sharing things was that I was no longer allowed to, because no one listened. But I wasn’t even allowed to say that. So here I am. Saying it to twelve people.

Today God showed me that trying to warn people who have already had multiple chances is like trying to rekindle a bad relationship. If you’re out, be grateful. Don’t return to your own vomit. So I’m not pushing it.

Here’s a photo of the planer. I am determined to make something out of wood in the near future, just to see my tools do what they’re supposed to do. Maybe a box. I have a great DVD about box-making.

06 11 15 DeWalt planer on HF table with hose attached

Last night after I got done working in the garage, and after I had cleaned up, I turned around to walk out, and I felt as if I had turned too fast. Suddenly I saw the garage with new eyes. It looked new to me. I saw tools that could actually be used. I saw increased order. It was very strange.

External order comes from internal order. There is no other way to get there.

Tools I’ve Helped Renew

Saturday, May 30th, 2015

Don’t Buy What You Can’t Store

Things are going well here. I am getting more done with tools than I used to. Below, you will see an example.

05 27 15 Rockwell grinder with lid installed

That’s a Rockwell 1″ x 42″ belt sander/grinder. I found it on Craigslist. The owner wanted 30 bucks. I could not pass that up, even though I did not want the tool.

I drove up to a borderline-ghetto area to pick it up. The owner was a young man with tattoos. He took me to his backyard, where he had a small shed set up. It was immaculate inside, complete with a two-tone paint job on sheetrock walls. He had a Logan lathe, a Rockwell drill press, and several other old machines set up. I was startled. You wouldn’t have expected anything from the outside.

He couldn’t get the grinder to work, so he removed it to sell and kept the stand.

Because the motor was in the stand, I needed propulsion. I decided to try a treadmill motor.

These motors used to be real bargains. They run on DC, and DC motors are usually expensive, but because there are a lot of old treadmills out there, treadmill motors have been easy to come by.

Some, at least, are controlled by boards that can be removed along with the motors. One of the most common boards is the MC-60. It has no transformers or power capacitors on it, but you can plug one end into a wall socket and the other into a motor, and it will make it run.

I found a 3/4-HP motor and an MC-60 on Ebay. I don’t recall the total cost. Somewhere around a hundred bucks. I made a mistake and fried the rectifiers and thyristors on the MC-60, so I had to put new ones in, but other than that, it worked.

The motor came with a cast-iron wheel for a flat belt, and the wheel had vanes in it so it sucked air through the motor. It wouldn’t work for my purpose, so I made a new aluminum pulley with vanes. I bought a plastic junction box at Home Depot to hold the control and switches. I mounted the whole mess on a piece of thick plywood, and I applied rubber feet.

The grinder needed to have crud cleaned out of it. It was also adjusted incorrectly, so things were rubbing. I got it clean, and it turned out to be in good shape. Even the wheels were okay. They are notorious for falling apart.

I ordered a few belts for it, and now it works. Very nice. A belt will cut non-ferrous things without exploding, and it produces less heat, so it can be very useful. If you’re grinding aluminum on a wheel, you need to be aware that aluminum can melt into the grit, expand when hot, and then make the wheel explode. This can lead to unpleasant events such as having large chunks of wheel imbed themselves in your facial bones.

Bench grinders are extremely dangerous, but almost no one knows that.

I put a reversing switch on the grinder so I can use the lower wheel for thicknessing parts. I will put some sort of table under it, and then I’ll be able to raise and lower the table and shove parts under the wheel, against the rotation. If you grind with the rotation, the belt will try to yank the parts away from you, and it will try to pull your fingers along with it, breaking them if necessary.

Right now I have an Accu-link belt on it, but I think I should get a normal v-belt, because Accu-link belts are not made with reversing motors in mind. It only takes a few seconds to reverse the belt, though.

While building this thing, I learned a lot about DC motors and belt grinders. Now I’ll be ready if I go on to build a 2″ x 72″.

A while back, I found that things were rusting in one corner of my shop. Eventually, I started to suspect that muriatic acid was to blame. I had a jug of it stored in that area. I investigated and found out that muriatic acid will make things rust even if you keep it capped. I moved the acid to another location and started polishing and oiling things. One of those things was a neat old Stanley #6 plane I got from a tool restorer.

The plane had some rust on it, but it wasn’t actually damaged. It got me thinking about another old plane that was in the garage somewhere. I dug the other plane out and looked it over. The sole was deeply pitted on one side. I mean, maybe twenty thousandths deep. I didn’t know if it was worth saving, but online tool people assured me it was worth a go.

I had to grind off maybe an eighth of an inch of pitted and dented blade, but I eventually got a good shaving edge, which I did my best to polish with a 6000-grit diamond stone. I used sandpaper, WD40, and a flat surface to clean the plane’s sole. I found myself a crummy two-by-four to use for test purposes, and eventually, I got the results you see below.

05 29 15 Stanley 4 plane sharpened and cleaned making shavings

It’s not a desirable plane. It was probably made about fifty years ago, when Stanley was making dubious products, but with effort, I got it to function, so now I can’t throw it out.

I’m considering getting a big rolling tool cabinet to organize things. I already have a really nice 26″ stainless Craftsman combo, but it’s not enough. I want something I can put the CNC lathe on, so it won’t be on my bench any more.

It’s hard finding good boxes now. I got very lucky with my Craftsman, because their stuff is mostly junk. So is Husky. There are a lot of used boxes out there, but I don’t think $1300 for a used Snap-On with rust and flaking paint is much of a deal.

Supposedly, the best stuff comes from Vidmar and Lista, but I will never find that locally, and if I did, it would cost a ton.

I made a surprising discovery. Harbor Freight makes very nice tool boxes. Not the best, but much better than Craftsman. You can get a 44″ roller for $369. I took a look, and they’re not bad at all. I also discovered Extreme Tools. Their boxes are supposedly better than Snap-On and Matco, but they’re considerably cheaper. For $900, you can get a 44″ box with 18-gauge steel in the drawers.

You can order from their website, but that’s a bad idea. If you do that, you have to deal with the shipper, and shippers are idiots. They ruin things all the time, and you have to jump through hoops to get things fixed. The best route is to order from Home Depot. The price is about the same, and delivery to your local store is free. Home Depot will then have to eat any shipping problems, and they will also collect the local sales tax so you don’t have to send a check to your state.

It’s a tough choice. I would like to use credit card points, and if you use them to buy Home Depot stuff with a gift card, you get 100% of the value of the points. If you shop at Harbor Freight, you only get 60% of the value. What it boils down to, for me, is about $360 more for the Extreme Tools box. Might be worth it. But then I’ll get hammered again if I buy a side cabinet to go with it.

I see tool organization as part of God’s pattern of correction and ordering. I bought a lot of tools without much thought for storage, so I have stuff all over the place. A second rolling cabinet would make a big dent in the problem.

Speaking of God, things go well in that area. I feel like a fool for taking so long to understand how wonderful correction is, and that it’s the main purpose of our walk with him. I wish I had seen the obvious sooner. I knew it was important, but I didn’t realize it was the biggest blessing available, after salvation.

You can know things without really feeling them in a way that motivates you.

Unfortunately, things are not going as well for people around me. My church is shrinking, and enthusiasm is waning. They insist on loud music and long services, so people come a few times and then get tired of it and move on. I can’t recommend the church to people any more, because I know they won’t stay. Everyone at the church has been made aware of the issues, but they have made a firm decision not to change, so there it is.

Every morning I wake up and spend hours in prayer, and until recently, God gave me revelation which I shared on social media. That’s over. I still get revelation, but I am not permitted to share it. When I consider sharing it, something stops me.

I realize what’s going on. I have been striving to convince people, and they have decided not to listen. I have been wasting my time. God required me to do it for a while, but for my own protection, he has told me to stop.

This is how the Christian life works. The only reason God allows us to remain here in this filthy mess of a world is to reach other people. For that reason, we are required to pray for them and talk to them. But we aren’t supposed to overdo it. We can’t force people to listen. We can’t choose God’s children for him. When people reject us consistently, we are supposed to pull back and let them receive the harvest for which they have sown. That’s where I am now.

If you keep pestering people, your relationship with them deteriorates, and you run the risk of becoming bitter and angry. You also become frustrated, because you feel you’re not achieving anything. When I stopped prodding and encouraging, I felt as though I had put down an anvil. I had been carrying lazy, proud people on my shoulders. It wasn’t until I put them down that I realized they were wearing me out.

It’s a great feeling, but I would rather see people listen and change.

Even God doesn’t get that wish. He can’t change people, and neither can I. He likes to put us in positions where we suffer what he suffers, so we understand what he goes through. Now I know what it’s like to have my time wasted by people who don’t listen. That’s God’s life. The entire Bible is about mankind’s failure to listen and the destruction that followed.

God told me this a few months back: hell isn’t full of sinners; it’s full of people who don’t listen. Sin can’t keep you out of heaven if you are willing to listen. A humble, repentant serial pedophile is better off than a missionary who thinks he knows everything.

Pride is THE worst sin. I know Jesus made it seem like all sins were equal, but he was talking about their effect on salvation. When it comes to destroying a person’s progress with God, pride is IT.

A small number of people have been affected by the things I’ve shared. That’s all I think I will get. Again, I am learning how God feels. He never gets the majority. It’s always a small remnant.

I don’t think the church will be around long. We started churches in Winter Haven and Georgia. The Winter Haven church disappeared, and I’m pretty sure the Georgia church is also gone. There haven’t been any announcements. Things are not going well in the main church. The other day I counted 50 people in attendance, excluding babies and small children. That’s not good. Back when we were moving forward and experiencing revival, attendance was a lot better.

I’ve had a lot of great experiences in the church, and I’ve made some wonderful friends. We have seen each other change for the better. Now I will wait for the next chapter in my life.

I may hop in the truck and check out a flea market today. I’ve never tried it, and they say you can find cast iron skillets and old tools at good prices. If not, it will be a nice outing.

Why You Can’t Use the Courses You Passed

Tuesday, May 5th, 2015

Enroll at Ebay University

I got a few comments on my last post, which was about studying electronics online. I feel like I should add a few things.

Andy-in-Japan says: “Thanks for the info – I’ve been looking for something to help out some members of the extended family that were a step up from Khan. And this looks fantastic!”

Steve G. (not sure if he wants his full name here) says: “The MIT courses are good from what I’ve seen. There’s also a new edition of The Art of Electronics out this month that I am digging into now; depending on the things you want to learn, it could be a good resource.”

I’m glad the stuff I wrote looked helpful, and I hope it was, but I know a little more than I did then, so I am adding a few things.

First off, I had to take to my bed after Steve mentioned The Art of Electronics. This book was one of the few dark spots in my efforts to get a physics degree. I felt like it was written in nerdese, which is impenetrable to normal people.

One of the big problems with technical texts is that they are written by people who can’t remember what it was like to NOT know the subject and the jargon. So they use weird slang and explain things poorly, if at all. I think the lab manual from The Art of Electronics is great, but the book seems more like a reference than a teaching tool. I would stay away from it if I were getting started. Which I am, sort of.

I am going through the lab manual now, redoing the experiments with a breadboard, an oscilloscope and multimeters (thank God for Ebay). It’s good for me to remember what it was like to do things in an ordered way, with tables and whatnot.

Second thing…I would not recommend relying on the MIT/EDx course. It’s incomplete. I don’t consider this a knock on MIT. They do a great job producing miracle workers. I think it’s a knock on electronics teaching in general.

I rounded up a few external sources when I got started. I will list them here.

1. The Electric Circuits Problem Solver
2. Electronics Demystified
3. Basic Circuit Analysis (Schaum)
4. Principles of Electric Circuits, Thomas L. Floyd, 2000.

I have some other things, but these are the really useful ones.

I knew I needed to do solved problems in order to learn, so I started trying to do problems in the first three books. I found I could not get through a chapter without extra research, because they mentioned ideas and methods that were not mentioned in the MIT lectures.

For all I know, later on in the MIT course, all these things are covered, but I doubt it, because they are fundamental things that would be unlikely to appear in relatively advanced lectures.

I have been taking written notes from the MIT class, and I have been inserting additional notes between the pages. I write up my own explanations of material from other sources, including debunking some of the BS. This has made a world of difference in my progress.

It doesn’t do you much good to learn three methods from one guy when you find yourself confronted with challenges that require five methods from other teachers. And sometimes the things you learn will turn out to be wrong or so backward they cause you problems.

If your teacher is good, you should be able to do any problem that isn’t above the course’s level, regardless of which book it appears in. Obvious?

Example: I had to relearn Gaussian elimination, for purposes of solving systems of linear equations (voltages and currents and so on). One source said to put augmented matrices in reduced echelon form and then use the results. This is insane advice. It can be incredibly tedious and nearly impossible to put a matrix in that form. In reality, you can save yourself a lot of pain by settling for echelon form or simply creating one row among the unknowns with only one nonzero entry.

I’m not going to explain that, because it’s boring, but trust me: you do not want reduced echelon form unless the matrix is really cooperative, and you can waste your life trying to obtain it. I spent hours trying to do it with a 3 x 3 matrix, and then I wrote my own treatment of linear equations and realized it’s a five-minute job IF you don’t do it the stupid way.

I also learned that Cramer’s rule (another tool for solving systems) is to be avoided at all costs. Lots of tedium, and no advantage over Gaussian elimination. Maybe I’m wrong, but I can’t see any reason to consider using it. But the books teach it.

Another example: an instructor may not tell you how to count loops in a circuit. This may be important, depending on what you’re doing. The answer is simple: count the components and sources, subtract the number of nodes, and add 1. Again, it’s too boring to explain, but it’s very useful.

If I were enrolled in the MIT course for credit, I would be in trouble, because I would never have time to consult the other sources or write my own material. I would have to keep up with tests and so on, so my time would be limited. Because I’m not taking tests, I have time to do it right. And if I ever decided to take the course for credit, it will be a joke, because I’ll be better prepared than most students.

Third thing…if you plan to study electronics, you should definitely get your own equipment and do practical work at home. After all, you’ll eventually need it. You’re studying so you can use what you’ve learned, and you can’t do that without equipment.

I have a breadboard and some handheld multimeters, and I also have some other stuff lying around. An old HP function generator and an HP current source. I learned something that will be very helpful to anyone amassing equipment on the cheap: old bench multimeters are plentiful on Ebay. A bench multimeter is a big box which, if you’re lucky, has an AC cord instead of batteries. They do all sorts of things, you don’t have to hold them in your hands or prop them up, you never have to change batteries, and you can get a nice one delivered for $50.

I forgot to mention the oscilloscope. I have an ancient Hitachi I bought for $50. It would not be useful for creating the next groundbreaking CPU, but it will be a very long time before I reach a point where I need anything better.

Radio Shack has an interesting product that can be useful. They’re going out of business, so this is the time to buy it. Forrest Mims, the electronics educator, helped them create a self-contained project lab, complete with a little breadboard, an ammeter, and components. You can buy it for under $35. It comes with two books of projects. I grabbed one, and it’s nice for gaining practical experience without driving yourself crazy looking for the components you might find in a college lab text. You can also use it for testing your own ideas.

They call it the “Electronics Learning Lab Kit.”

I fiddled around with electronics in the past, but I never really got anywhere. It was like I was in a jar with a big heavy lid on top, obstructing my progress. Now things are really coming together. It makes me wonder what I could have accomplished when I was younger, had I really known how to study. In the past, I just showed up in class and did what they told me. That doesn’t really work unless your teacher is exceptional.

It shows how life changes when you submit to God. When you do things in your own strength, no matter how great it is, you will fail, or your success will be a curse, because God opposes the proud. Once you submit and start gaining supernatural power, tasks that used to defeat you start to crumble before you, and people who used to chase you start running from you.

America is in decline because we’re proud. We forgot who made us strong, so we don’t pray or give him credit. We don’t get to know him, and he does not guide our lives, so we do silly unproductive things, and we lose a lot. People who used to hide from us are now out in the streets giving us orders. Foreigners come here illegally, appear on TV, and shame us for refusing to give them privileges exceeding our own. Terrorists kill us from time to time, on our own soil. This is how life goes for the rebellious.

Things are rapidly getting worse, not just for America, but for Christians who live in America. We are not being spared. Our enemies beat us every day. That’s because we’re not good Christians. We don’t pray in the Spirit. We don’t hear from God. We have no idea which way to turn. He doesn’t help us, because we’re trying to do our own will, and we’re claiming it’s his.

I can’t go back to that. I would rather die than go back to wondering who would defeat me next. It’s not an acceptable way to live. Often released convicts say they will never go back to prison, no matter what it takes to avoid it. I understand that completely. No one wants a life of defeat, hopelessness, and humiliation.

It’s not really important whether I master electronics, but my success is a good example of the way God turns things around when I listen to him.

America is not going to do well. We can’t admit we’re wrong. We think evil is good and good is evil, so we can’t even diagnose our problems. A small residue of people will find help from God, and the rest will continue to fail. Even those who prosper financially will be failures, because they will have to lose themselves in order to get what they want.

When things get really bad, people will point to Christians who are successfully persecuted, and they will say it’s proof God isn’t real. In reality, it will just prove that proud, ignorant Christians don’t get much help from him.

It’s unfortunate that there is no solution to the problem, but at least you can save yourself, and you can help a few people around you avoid the mess. Really, that’s what we should expect. Lot, Noah, Moses, and Jesus were not able to save many people, and that’s a pattern which exists because of the stubbornness of human beings. It will never change as long as we have free will.

Anyway, while the country continues to slide, I will try to enjoy whatever peace and productivity I can.

I hope the information on electronics will be helpful to people, and that folks who know more about it than I do will add to what I wrote.

CNC Surprises

Thursday, September 18th, 2014

No Cigar

I feel like updating the saga of my CNC progress. I have learned a great deal about CNC, but in relation to the amount that I need to know in order to be competent, I know just about nothing.

First thing: do not build a CNC lathe. Do not even waste your time. A mill will do nearly everything a lathe will do, plus a million things a lathe can’t begin to do. You can thread with a mill. You can turn parts with a mill. You don’t want a lathe. Believe me. And if you have a lathe, no one will want to help you, because only about 10% of CNC hobbyists use lathes. Even software makers ignore us.

Second thing: precision is expensive. You can fix a machine so the computer compensates for backlash. But it doesn’t actually work. Say you’re milling a round hole instead of boring. You have to make the cutter travel in a big circle, as well as rotating. Every time an axis changes direction, you’re going to get error due to backlash. The only way to get rid of it is to use ballscrews, and cheap ballscrews don’t really work, although they may make you feel good. On the web, people with cheap screws talk about backlash figures between 0.005″ and 0.010″, which is huge.

When I got ready to build my lathe, I figured the machinery itself would be simple to create. The plans I bought didn’t mention ballscrews. Then I got it running and found out I had 0.018″ of backlash on the z screw. The software compensates on simple parts, and that’s very good. It’s worth a lot. I can do a lot of stuff I could not do with a manual mill, and I can do it with good accuracy. But sooner or later I’ll want to cut a part that requires a sudden change in direction on z, and I won’t be able to do it well.

Another annoying lathe issue: you have to tell the computer about the cutters you use. When you use a tool, only a tiny part of it will touch the work. The computer has to know where that contact occurs. Tools have rounded corners, so there won’t be a sharp, defined point where the tool makes contact. It will vary as the shape of the work and the direction of tool movement change. Lathe inserts vary a lot, so you may have to have a whole bunch of tools defined. I’m not sure HSS is useful at all, because you can’t grind it precisely. If you try to tell the computer the radius on a tool made from HSS, you’ll definitely have error.

I have not used a CNC mill, but it stands to reason that it should be less complicated. Say you’re using a half-inch end mill. You know exactly where the lower surface is, at all times. You know where the sides are. Not complicated. Maybe I’m wrong, but I can’t really see myself spending days telling the computer about the small number of tools I’ll use.

I’m going to keep the lathe, because even with limited precision, it can be useful, but I would not waste my time building another one. I’m hoping to use it for threading and tapers, as well as curved parts like dial handles. Things like that will justify its existence until I get a mill going.

People are telling me I should have bought a used machine. There are a lot of old CNC machines out there that have obsolete electronics. I may be wrong about this, but I will relate what I understand to be true. Years ago, CNC required big dedicated computers and expensive controllers. In 2014, a secondhand PC can handle most of that stuff. There are old machines out there with screws and motors that still work, but they have heavy, useless built-in electronics. Commercial users want to get rid of them, so hobbyists buy them and bypass the ancient circuitry, running them with Mach3 or LinuxCNC.

I would love to have an old vertical machining center, which is just a very fancy milling machine with an enclosure that keeps chips and coolant contained. But they’re gigantic. There’s one for sale down here, and it weighs over 8000 pounds. I’m crazy, but not that crazy. Also, what if you buy one, and the screws are no good? You’re out maybe six grand, and then you have to put another two or three thousand in. Arrgh.

I am thinking I should get a new Chinese mill, like an R45 clone or a Grizzly G0704, which is a little smaller and less rigid. I would have to put decent screws on it, which would give me gastric distress, but it would do just about anything I want to do. I still have the ability to add 6 more axes to my controller, so I should be able to keep the lathe and add a mill with no problems.

I bought Dolphin CAD and CAM, which is a pretty good commercial program. They gave me a big discount. I haven’t gotten to where I can actually use it, but I’m working steadily. I have managed to get Mach3 working (most of the time), so I use it to fine-tune the machine. Yesterday I cut a #2 Morse taper in aluminum, just to see if it would work. Tapers have to be very precise, but the geometry is simple, and the tool doesn’t change directions while it’s on the work, so I figured there was some hope that my lathe would pull it off.

Below is a photo of the taper. It fits fine in the center bore of my rotary table. I put Sharpie ink on it and tried to rub it off on the inside of the bore, to check for high and low spots, but I couldn’t see any problems in the result. It would definitely be sticky enough to hold a drill chuck in the lathe’s tailstock.

09 17 14 Morse 2 taper cut on mini-lathe

If I can make tapers that actually work, it will be a nice ability to have. I should cut an R8 and see what happens. My experience with lathes is that even with error in the chuck, you can get a very nice, round part as long as you don’t move it around while cutting it. If you take it out and put it back in, it won’t be in the same position. I don’t think it’s unrealistic to try to make an R8 taper, but the dial indicator or test indicator will tell me for sure.

I am enjoying the lathe. I plan to keep working on it until it can thread. But compared to a mill, it’s…handicapped. That’s just how it is.

The Unlikely Smell of Success

Sunday, August 3rd, 2014

Lathe Debut Imminent

I’m not at church today because the A/C blew out. I can’t wait until we have our own building.

The CNC mini-lathe is pretty much done. I have to get the electronics going, but apart from adjustments and nonessentials, the hardware is ready to go.

I will not criticize this design, because I am not competent to do so, but I have had some negative comments from experienced CNCers. They don’t like the direct couplings between the steppers and screws, and one said it was a bad idea to use a lead screw to move the saddle. I don’t know what else you would use, though.

Yesterday I cut the lead screw to size. It had to be 22″ long, with a 1.75″ portion turned down to 0.25″ to receive an adjustable collar. I got it to about 0.248″.

Turning a lead screw in a lathe is pretty nerve-wracking. If you simply stick it in the chuck, you risk ruining the threads. You can bore soft jaws out so they hold it without marring, or you can make a split bushing that goes over it. You chuck the bushing, and it tightens around the screw without harming it.

I made bushings, but in practice, they were no good. When I chucked the screw, it wobbled pretty badly. I considered boring my soft jaws, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to bore all the way through a brand new pair. I might need that metal for something else later.

This was not a precision job, and I had extra screw material, so I tried the gonzo approach. I wrapped the screw in several layers of foil and chucked it.

It’s hard to put an indicator on a coarse thread. It will bounce around. I decided to eyeball it. I put something straight next to it and turned it, and I saw no deflection. I knew that put me within a couple of thousandths, which is not far from the best the chuck can do, so I was happy.

I center-drilled the far end, put a live center in it, and turned 1.75″ down to size. No problems. If it’s not perfect, I can’t detect it without instruments, and that’s more than good enough.

08 02 14 CNC lead screw turned to size

I had a problem when I mounted it on the lathe. I have some new flexible “plum” couplings, and I put one on the z screw. These couplings have an aluminum spider fitting at each end, and in between, there’s a layer of urethane, like a skateboard wheel. They allow for a lot of error in the rotation of the things they connect, but they also pull apart if you pull the ends away from each other. I want my setup to be rigid longitudinally, so the screw isn’t slopping back and forth and creating incredible backlash. I had to go back and use my old rigid connector, which works fine.

Plum couplings are perfect for the x axis, except that the one I got was a tiny bit too long. There was a layer of urethane between the shafts I was connecting, and it was too thick. In order to use it, I would have to make a thicker x mount or alter the coupling. I’ve made the x mount twice already, so my answer was to mill the urethane out. It should not matter. It installed easily, and it looks like it will run fine.

08 03 14 CNC lathe x axis mount with plum coupling

The z screw system goes motor, coupling, screw end, adjustable collar, wave (spring) washer, thrust bearing, mount, thrust bearing, screw body. The collar appears to be there to hold the screw tightly against the mount, putting pressure on the washer and bearings. It has to be very tight. I had problems with it slipping. I had to tighten it to the point where I was afraid the set screw would strip. I don’t know if 0.248″ is too small for the collar or what. When I made the screw, I assumed a couple of thousandths wouldn’t matter. It’s adjustable, right? But it may be that I need to put some foil inside it to take up room. Or maybe I need to make a bigger, tougher collar. In the real world, there would be a taper, I guess, with the bearing pressed onto it so it could not move. But this is not the real world. This is home CNC.

08 03 14 CNC lathe z axis mount with coupling and bearings

I don’t have a project box, but I have a Bud Portacab on the way. This is a foot-tall lunchbox sort of thing made from aluminum. I want to put plugs on the back for 8 motors (the limit for two Kstep boards). I’m not sure what kind of connectors to use. They have to be 4-wire connectors that will handle up to 18 gauge wire. I will also need a plug for the lathe’s spindle sensor.

I’m getting a lot better at machining, because I have no choice. It’s easy to machine when the plans are in your head, and everything is approximate. When you’re working from drawings, you have to apply yourself.

I’m hoping to see movement from the lathe this week. I need to get it put together and figure Gcode out well enough to do a simple cut. After that, things should get a lot easier. It will just be a matter of study and practice.

Most CNCers don’t do lathes, and that’s understandable. A mill will do a lot more. But I don’t have a mill waiting to be hacked up, and the mini-lathe was sitting here doing nothing. It should be very useful, though, and it will give me some understanding of the most important tool technology of our age. Most people are getting left behind when it comes to CNC/3D printing, and ten years from now, they’ll be like the old geezers who hate cell phones. “Damn this thing. Hello? Hello? What? I have to open it? Hello? Hello? Which button?”

After this, I have to make the lathe ball-cutter for which I bought plans. After that, I might like to make a small surface grinder. I considered making a tool grinder, but they’re not really that useful. People tell me that even if you have a great commercial grinder, you will probably do bad work, because it takes skill. And cutters aren’t that expensive, really. A surface grinder would be nice. If you like making machining accessories, you will want truly flat surfaces once in a while, and hand scraping is a real chore.

Hope I have a victory Youtube to post soon.

Nuts to Me

Friday, July 25th, 2014

The 4-Jaw has Landed

I have another machining update. I sometimes wonder if I should put so much of this material up, since some people come here for spiritual stuff. But on his own blog, a blogger is a dictator who answers to no one, so here I go.

My first rotary table was a 10″ Phase II. I wanted something big so I would not run into the tool-user’s curse, which is needing a bigger tool ten seconds after you unwrap the one you just bought. Phase II tables are made to mate with 3-jaw chucks one size smaller, so I put an 8″ chuck on this table. Together, these items weighed so much I could not lift them well enough to move them. At least I don’t think so, because lifting the table all by itself is risky. I don’t think I’ve ever lifted them when they were joined.

Eventually, I decided I had had enough of moving this thing, and I decided to get a 6″ table. Unfortunately, Enco had a great price on 8″ tables, so that’s what I bought. And I bought a 6″ chuck for it, because mating an 8″ 3-jaw chuck to it is virtually impossible.

Had I bought a 6″ table, moving the table and chuck together would not be all that bad, but with the 8″ job, I have to separate them.

Generally, my solution to this problem is to leave the table on the mill all the time. I have not yet had a job big enough to make it necessary to remove the table. The 10″ table was a little annoying, but the 8″ one is reasonably unobtrusive when I’m using the vise.

I can tell you find this post exciting.

One of the aggravating things about having a 3-jaw chuck on a rotary table is that every time you remove the chuck (which is necessary in order to clamp stuff to the table), you have to use a dial indicator on it when you put it back on, to make sure it’s centered on the table. A while back, I got the bright idea of using a 4-jaw table instead. It would be 2″ bigger, because 4-jaw chucks are less annoying to mount, and I would not have to indicate it.

I totally forgot that I would have to indicate EVERY SINGLE PART I put on it. But that’s okay. It can do everything a 3-jaw can do, it holds bigger work, and it allows you to machine irregular parts. You can also machine stuff that isn’t centered, and you can use the chuck as a faceplate if you remove the jaws.


I ordered an 8″ Phase II chuck. It looks fine, but it came with a lot of grit in it, and the machining in the jaws and slots is somewhat crude.

When I asked Phase II if there was an adapter plate for mounting it, they told me there was not. I thought I would have to make one. But the chuck has 4 holes for mounting cap screws, and there are 4 T-nut slots in the table. Measuring carefully, I realized that the slots were juuuuust deep enough to permit mounting the chuck on T-nuts. Problem: the nuts I had are rectangular, and the slots are semicircular at the extreme ends, so the corners on the nuts prevent them from going all the way in. I had to machine the corners off or make new nuts.

I suspected the nuts were hardened, and they were too small to machine easily, so I got out a 3/4″ by 1/2″ bare of 1018 steel and made new nuts. Here is a shot of part of the process. It got prettier later on, but this is my first effort.

07 11 14 making rounded t nuts for 4 jaw chuck on mill

That thing in the collet is a stud. I used it to center the screw holes under the spindle. Later I made a tool from 1/2″ aluminum rod. The end was turned to an unthreaded diameter that fit snugly in the tapped holes. I put the tool in the collet, used it to center the work, clamped everything, and replaced the tool with a 1/2″ cutter.

The job was simple. First I made a long bar of steel with the same cross-sectional profile as a nut. It was 0.700″ wide at the bottom, and it had two shoulders cut into it so it was 0.450″ wide at the top (the name “T-nut” comes from this shape, which is an upside-down “T”).

Then I drilled and tapped several M10 x 1.5 holes through the bar, for the cap screws.

After that, I clamped the bar to the rotary table and machined two radii into the end. I used the band saw to cut the bar into individual nuts. It was a fairly pretty operation. I had to do some filing to get the last few thousandths of necessary clearance, but now I have this:

07 23 14 4 jaw lathe chuck mounted on 8 inch rotab with special nut

You can see one of my round nuts on the table. That’s a crude one I made as an afterthought. It doesn’t have a pretty round end on it like the others.

Under that table, there are two nuts with one hole each and two nuts that have two holes each. I was going to cut them down, but I thought maybe I would get some type of versatility if I had different types of nuts, and it saved me some work, which was probably my primary motivation.

My next project is to make special T-nuts that fit the jaw slots. I have been told this will damage the slots, but I think that’s wrong. I can make them from brass or aluminum, so they’ll be softer than the table, and I can make them long, so the pressure is distributed over a wide area. I got this idea from my 10″ 4-jaw (on the big lathe), which already has faceplate slots cut in it. Granted, these slots are separate from the jaw slots, but I still think my idea will work. It would make it totally unnecessary to remove the chuck when clamping things. If I don’t like the way it works out, I can always make a round, thick aluminum plate, attach it to the chuck through the existing screw holes, and mill or fly-cut it so it’s level. I can mark it so it’s always mounted the same way, and that should give me reliable flatness every time I bolt it on.

Now that this is behind me, I can move on to the assembly of my CNC lathe’s control box (probably the wrong term for it). It will house the power supply, controller and drive board(s).

Stuff is getting done. The backlog is dwindling. Praise the Lord.

CNC Lathe Motors Mounted

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

Send Out the Dancing Girls

Should have appended this to my last post.

Yesterday I stuck the motors on my CNC lathe. The plans called for 10-32 screws, which seems like a bad idea on a metric lathe. I followed the plans, and I ended up with threaded holes bigger than the holes on the motors. In order to pass a 10-32 screw without a lot of slop, you need a hole drilled by a #10 bit, pretty much. That’s the size I chose. I put the motors on the mill with a stop in the vise, and I lined the holes up with the drill chuck as well as possible, and I opened the holes up using my one of my lovely new Harbor Freight HSS drill bits.

The motors screwed right onto the mounts. No problems. Like they grew there.

07 23 14 stepper screwed to x mount with knob mockup

The lathe is virtually done. I have to put a lead screw on it, which is a nothing job, and I also have to install a sensor and two couplers. The knurled knobs need to be opened up a little, and I need to put set screws in them, but that’s very easy.

I did a fine job modifying the lathe, and I even improved a couple of things. Now I’m just waiting for a few parts, including the power supply. I think I’ll start my Meshcam trial on Monday.

If I were starting fresh, I’d use metric stuff for as many items as possible, but it won’t matter.

I am wondering what else can be done with a lathe. What if I had a milling attachment? That could be used for things like broaching. What if I CNC’d the spindle motor? It seems to me that a lathe could do a lot of milly things if it were set up right. I just have to go slow and see what works.

“Please do not Power off or Unplug Your Machine”

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

“Use a Shotgun Instead”

People are commenting on my recent PC upgrade ordeal. There is more to the story.

Yesterday I put the PC back together and got ready to enjoy it. Then UPS delivered the new video card, so I had to take the box apart all over again.

I put a 27″ TV in the garage because my monitor made my eyes hurt, and I wanted to use the HDMI input instead of the VGA input, figuring it might work better. I ordered some sort of Geforce card which would work with my PC. A cheap refurb from Newegg.

When I turned the machine off to open it up, Windows told me I had 15 updates to install. No warning. Just, “Sit down and wait for an indeterminate period.” And of course, some updates installed in a few seconds, and others took forever.

Then the machine started turning on and off. My favorite part was when it said “Configuring Windows – 32% Complete,” then “Welcome,” then “Shutting down.”

I got the silly thing installed, and then when I turned the PC on, I had 800 by 600 resolution, which is pretty awful. Windows 7 didn’t have the right driver. Of course. So I went to the Geforce/Invidia/whatever site to start on the three-minute job of downloading the correct one.

The driver package–I am completely serious–was 221 MB. And the server was not setting speed records. The little speed indication kept changing: “14 minutes remaining'; “11 minutes remaining”; “28 minutes remaining.”

Then I clicked on the download, and while it tried to install, it showed me ads for Nvidia products. Talk about bad timing.

Then the installation failed.

I tried again, eliminating all the choices which seemed irrelevant, and the driver installed.

I could not believe it.

I learned a few things about “new” (probably 2009) video cards. This one does audio as well as video, through one HDMI cable. That’s nice. I was able to disconnect the Y-cable I bought for the audio about three days ago.

I got the thing running, and before I was even done feeling sorry for myself, I found myself in heaven. Good things I had not anticipated were happening.

The wireless mouse and desktop worked over a longer distance than I had realized, so I was able to sit on the garage floor in a backpack chair and run the PC. That was great. And I was able to run Youtube videos in full-screen mode. Bliss. I fired up a series of Tubalcain machining videos and felt the upgrade welts fading.

Here’s a photo:

07 23 14 garage PC with Tubalcain shaper video

Videos are getting so good now, watching Youtube on a large screen is actually a pleasure.

I am still working on quenching the intense malice I feel toward Bill Gates and everyone who has a pocket protector. But other than that, this turned out pretty sweet.

Kill Bill Pt. III

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

Gates Must Pay

Over the last few days I upgraded my garage PC to Windows 7, so naturally, in spite of my near-total holiness and renewed character, I am having homicidal thoughts about Bill Gates.

The XP “crisis” was announced a few months back, and I got all excited and bought two copies of Windows 7. Then the drop-dead date passed, and nothing happened, so I procrastinated. I started thinking maybe Microsoft would wise up, in the hope of avoiding massive lawsuits, and continue providing limited support. They seem to be doing that, because I never stopped getting updates.

Anyway, with the CNC lathe nearly finished, I figured it was time to do something. I don’t want to set a PC up for CNC and THEN upgrade.

Elsewhere, I described my experience thusly: “Upgrading my computer’s OS was like being dragged naked over broken glass in hell behind a flatulent donkey with a boombox on its back playing ‘La Macarena,’ which is to say, relatively painless compared to previous upgrades.”

I guess that’s accurate. It was horrible, but survivable.

Microsoft–this will shock people–really screwed up the entire process. I can provide details to help other people who are stupid enough to upgrade.

First, you need the upgrade compatibility tool from Microsoft. It’s free. You run it, and it examines your PC carefully, sends all your personal data to the NSA, and then fails to tell you about all the things that will go wrong when you upgrade. It pretends to tell you, but it misses things. Run it anyway so you can tell people to shut up when your upgrade fails and they start yammering about the compatibility tool.

Second, you need to find out whether your existing programs, for which you probably paid several thousand dollars (unless you’re a typical software thief), will run under Windows 7. If you don’t have time to do this, I’ll help you: they won’t. It’s just way too hard for a hundred thousand overpaid software engineers to make advanced software that is capable of running more-primitive programs. And if it happens to make Bill Gates more money, by forcing people to buy new versions of Office, well, that’s just a coincidence.

I upgraded my ancient PC, and it ran fine, and then Windows 7 told me it wanted nothing to do with my ethernet card. So I had a problem that could best be fixed using the Internet, and the one thing it prevented me from using was…the Internet.

This PC was free, and the motherboard’s LAN port blew out early in its career, so there was a Netgear card in there. And Netgear had a patch to make it run with Windows 7. Laboriously, I moved the patch from another PC to this PC, and it did absolutely nothing but get my hopes up and waste my time.

By the grace of God, and for no reason I can now guess, I had a totally unneeded LAN card in my main PC, so I stole it, put it in the garage PC, and succeeded in getting connected.

Then the PC started quitting and refusing to start.

This is how computers are. A computer never has one problem. It always has a bunch of problems, all at once, that are unrelated, yet which work in synergy to destroy your will to live.

I went all through the stupid thing. I put in a day of work. I checked connections. I messed with the “on” switch. I got it going. Everything was fine. I left the room. I came back. The computer was off.

Eventually it occurred to me that the power supply might be hinky. In order to test it, I took it out, removed the cover, and electrocuted myself. That was actually unintentional and provided little useful data, but I did do it.

Today I drove to Tiger Direct and got a new power supply. I plugged it in, and the PC went insane, because I had moved some jumper or other. When I finally got it going, it told me it had 168 crucial Windows updates to apply. That was like an hour ago, and I think it has installed 3.

Windows 7 is actually pretty good. When I say that, I feel like a cancer survivor saying dysentery is pretty good. But it’s really not bad. I had always thought that 7 was Vista, which is three levels worse than cancer, but it turns out it’s just XP with fewer landmines.

I still haven’t installed my more-expensive Windows programs. I am positive Finale won’t work, based on the fact that I really like it and want it to work.

Windows 7 has a fairly stupid way of making SOME random programs (i.e. not the ones you care about) work. They don’t tell you this when you install it. You have to download and install a continent-sized program called XP Mode. Then XP Mode disappears, and you can’t run it. That’s because you didn’t install Virtual PC, which Windows didn’t tell you about, when you installed XP Mode. So now you have to install Virtual PC, which takes another year and a half.

When you get all that done, you MAY be allowed to install your old program, in a fake XP window.

Or not. And if the answer is “not,” and you have to buy more programs, giving other billionaires just like Bill Gates even more of your money, well, that’s just a coincidence.

Now my PC is lying on its side with the updates running (or not), and I can’t put it back together until it gives me the go-ahead.

If you try this yourself, may God be with you, because Microsoft definitely will not.

CNC Lathe: Electronics on the Way

Friday, July 18th, 2014

Progress Report From the Crazy Neighbor Who Never Leaves the Garage

The CNC project is moving along well.

Because the machined parts for adapting the lathe are mostly done, I’m thinking about electronics and software. I will write what I’ve learned and concluded. Some of it is surely wrong, but for someone else in my position, coming along later, it will be a lot better than nothing.

First of all, if you’re doing CNC, you should join the Home Shop Machinist board. There are other forums that are useful, but if you’re starting at the bottom, they are likely to ignore you. I have a CNC Zone account, and it’s nearly useless. HSM is friendlier.

Here is my understanding of the way a home-grade CNC machine works. You need 1) a PC, 2) an external controller, 3) a board that drives stepper motors, and 4) stepper motors.

Some people do not use external controllers. Based on what I’ve read, I think that approach is only worth discussing if you want to dedicate an entire PC to nothing–and I mean nothing–but controlling a machine. If you use your PC for music or the web while you work, it will interfere with the CNC machine, and you’ll hate life. So I am ignoring this option, and I know little about it.

The external controller takes output from the PC and turns it into signals that the stepper motors like, if I understand it correctly. Then the drive board turns these little signals into big ones that go right into the motors and make them run. Your PC’s ports can’t do that. The motors need too much juice.

To make the controller and drive run, you’ll need a power supply for them. Actually, I believe you’ll need more than one, because one powers the motors, and the other will power the computerized stuff in the boards. The voltages for this stuff–which nerds refer to as “logic”–are lower than the voltages for the drive.

If you can’t stand the thought of having your machine close to the PC, you will want an ethernet-based system. It will let you have long runs with ethernet cable. Otherwise, you’re stuck with USB. I’ve heard limiting distances described as 5 feet, and I’ve also heard 16 feet. I don’t know which is correct. I would assume that the limiting distance is between the PC and the box with the controller and drive, since the wires that go to the steppers are ordinary 4-conductor jobs with a decent amount of current flowing through them.

If you want ethernet, you will have to use a Smoothstepper drive. Sadly, it only works with Mach3 software, so if you hate Mach3 (many people do), you will be SOL. For this reason, I chose USB.

The USB solution I chose was a Dynomotion rig. They make the Kflop controller and the Kstep drive. These boards are made for each other, and they can be connected with one ribbon cable. They are sized so you can mount one on top of the other. You can run 4 motors from one Kstep, and you can screw another Kstep on top of it for four more motors. You can use other drives, but they aren’t going to be plug-and-play with the Kflop.

With Dynomotion, you don’t have to use Mach3. I guess I should say what Mach3 is.

To design a part, you may want to use CAD software, although you don’t have to. It will allow you to draw the part, with all the measurements. Then you feed this to CAM software, which turns it into something stepper controllers can eat. That something is called “G-Code.” It’s a language, like Pascal or Basic. I don’t really know how this works, but I think it will show you the path the tool will take during the operation you’re planning, and you can check it over and see if it makes sense. There are also G-Code editing programs, which are sort of like Turbo Pascal. They’re word processors for G-Code, and I believe they also compile it. Compilation is the process of turning written code into programs.

If you are a true uber-geek, you can bypass a lot of this stuff and just write the G-Code, but I think you have to give up diurnal life and sleep in a closet, hanging upside-down. I don’t think normal human beings can do it.

CAM (Computer-Aided Manufacturing) software is hideously expensive, with $1500 programs considered cheap, but there are free options, and there is a $250 program called Meshcam which is popular with unsophisticated users. They have a 15-day trial, which I plan to sign up for after the machine is running.

Mach3 comes after the CAM software, and it talks to the controller. Mach3 is user-friendly, and it has tons of users who have built up a big knowledge base, but many people complain that it’s buggy and ruins a lot of parts. Sometimes CNC doesn’t work, and when that happens, you throw out expensive metal, and you may have to jump to prevent a machine crash. The negative things I’ve read about Mach3 convince me that I should try to avoid using it.

Dynomotion makes a free product to get people free from Mach3. It’s called KMotionCNC. I am hoping I can make it work.

I know zippity-doo-dah about computer programming, having taken precisely one course over twenty years ago, but I believe G-Code is based on C, because CNC people keep saying “C” when they discuss it. In any case, you have to be able to do a certain amount of programming in order to survive, because none of this stuff is really ironed out well enough to trust.

I downloaded a free G-Code editor called RapR3D. I don’t know if it’s any good, but I’m sure it will suffice to get the basics into my head, and that’s all I’m after at the moment.

I have a Kflop, Kstep, and power supply on the way.

Power supplies are extremely confusing. The motors are generally rated for between 2 and 5 amps per phase, and the voltage ratings are below 10, but you are expected to use power supplies with output voltages up to 25 times as high as the motors’ rated voltages. This is normal. The motor specs will not tell you how high to go. I ordered motors that go around 3 amps, and I have chosen a 48V power supply. I know it will work. Other people have used it. You want a lot of voltage. It makes the motors jump around better.

How do you determine the amount of current you need? You multiply the current rating by the number of motors, right? Right. If you listen to people who don’t know anything. In fact, you don’t need to go higher than 2/3 of this number. People will argue about this, but they’re wrong. The motors will draw less than the rated amount of current, because you will be “microstepping.” That means that instead of going a full step with every pulse of juice (1.8 degrees), you will move through a smaller angle, or “microstep.” The motor will produce less than the rated torque, but that’s okay, because you don’t need the rated torque. If everyone else is using 300 oz-in motors for your application, you can use them, too. You don’t need to know exactly how much torque you’re getting. Does the machine run? If so, you have enough torque.

I would like to have a second machine on my system, and that would be a mill. It could have as many as 4 motors, making a total of 7, including the lathe. I can do that if I get a second Kstep board. But I’ll need current for 4 big motors, not 2 medium-sized ones. The big motors are rated at 5 amps. That means I’ll need 13.33A, or 2/3 of 20A. There is a well-known guy called “Hoss,” and he built a Grizzly G0704 CNC mill. People told him he needed a huge power supply, but he put out a video running three axes simultaneously with a small one, and he never hit 4 amps. He says he would be happy to use a 12.5A supply for five axes. I believe him. He certainly knows more than I do. I ordered a 16.7A supply.

I don’t know why the current draw is so low. Maybe it’s the microstepping, or maybe the current comes in little pulses with breaks between them. Maybe it’s because the voltage is so high, you need less current. But I’m confident that the 2/3 figure is correct. The people at Gecko drives agree.

There are two types of supplies. Regulated (“switched” or “switching”), and linear (“unregulated”). The regulated ones have voltage regulators, and they’re made with flimsier components. Unregulated supplies are supposed to be sturdier, and they have various other advantages which I can’t remember right now. I do know this: switching supplies require fans, and if the fans fail, they fry. Dust–not a rarity in garages–kills fans.

Hoss uses a cheap switching supply in his video, but for me the price difference between regulated and unregulated was about ten bucks, so I went with unregulated. Delivered, it will be $141.00. Was it a waste of money? Probably, but ignorance is expensive, and at this stage, I am ignorant. I want to be safe. I would rather buy one pricey supply than a cheap one that blows up, followed by a pricey one.

I’m going to need a box. I’ll mount the Kflop/Kstep combo in there, along with the power supply. I will need a repurposed wall wart to power the logic circuitry. Wall warts can’t really be hardwired, so I suppose I’ll stick a cheap power strip inside the box and plug the wart and PS into it. That’s easier than trying to cut up a plastic wall wart case.

If things work out, it will go like this: PC >> USB port >> Kflop >> Kstep >> steppers >> cool parts >> joy.

This is not a simple project. The user end of the technology is extremely primitive right now. I told someone my dream was to describe parts orally into my cell phone while driving home, and then to find them finished when I arrived. I was kidding, but anyway, it’s nothing like that. You have to know a fair amount about electronics. You have to learn some programming. You have to be able to debug things you know little about. On top of that, before you begin, you have to be a machinist. But the reward, even at this late date, is that you’ll be a decade ahead of everyone else. I seriously doubt that even 3D printers and routers, which are pretty simple compared to other applications, will be in most home workshops within five years.

It’s turning out to be expensive. I’m sure it will be over a thousand dollars, not including the lathe and tooling. And when it’s over, I’ll have a lathe, which is possibly the least-exciting CNC tool. It’s so unexciting, the vast majority of CNC hobbyists are doing something else. It should be very useful, though. Once you buy a lathe, it takes about thirty seconds to run up against a job you absolutely cannot do without CNC, a tracer, or gears you don’t have.

One nice thing about this is that the first tool is the biggest hump. If I add a mill, I won’t have to buy new software or a new controller. I’ll just need the drive board, a machine, and the steppers.

CNC mills are incredibly cool. Go to Youtube and see. You can make stuff you would not believe.

Someone told me I should have CNC’d the big lathe, because the cost would be similar, and I’d be able to do more stuff. I’m not ready to screw up an investment that big, but it may happen later.

This is where I am today. There are probably about 300 errors in what I wrote, but I’m going forward anyway, because you can’t solve all your problems by theorizing. Eventually you have to have a project sitting in front of you.

My guess is that I’ll be able to make a part by August 17, one month from today. I think that’s a very reasonable goal. I am hoping I’ll be good enough to get practical use from the machine a month after that.

It’s very exciting. I will keep you informed as I go.