Monthly Archives: February 2013

Cursive, Print, Pen or keyboard!

Boy did I stir up a bees’ nest! Actually, I came upon one that had already been disturbed. It stemmed from a report in our town about the school districts in our state laying aside teaching the artistic skill of writing in cursive. The big debate was over  whether to make the kids learn how to write in cursive or not. Keyboarding, printing, and when one doesn’t have a smartphone, iPad, or keyboard, maybe, if you have to ….print…but,  please, oh, please don’t make ’em master themselves and their urges and as primary grade  students learn how to write in cursive.  Why that’s tantamount to making a youth practice the piano after someone has thrown a football or baseball his or her way. Hey, maybe I stumbled on a great idea: Let’s add "cursive teachers" to piano teachers, "tap dance  and baton teachers"  and have writing recitals. What d’ya think? We could sell videos, give away smart phones or mini iPads….the possibilities are endless.

Now, I’ve taught youth in the preteen category for over 50 years and I know what it’s about when I say with regard to learning how to write, "There’s trouble in River City!" Yeah, Yeah, I know that some eager to "be on the curve" techie type is going to say: "old man, readin’, ‘riting and ‘rithm’tic when out with the hitching post." Really?, perhaps, (Why, just the other day, I saw an electric car tethered to a power outlet on a post, hmmm) just maybe, that’s part of the reason why we Americans have a hard time keeping the label, "Made in America" on the products we buy and use. Sure the kids are bright, and yes, they learn quicker that the speed of light, but, in my opinion, it seems that part of their brain is being short-circuited while they’re being under trained when tthey’re not required to learn how to write their names. Most of them can’t read the "hen scratching of their peers, much less the letters and gift cards that grandma or grandpa sends them. What happens in our family is close to "rip open the card, glance at the picture, and show me the money." It’s really simple, they act like that because they can’t read either the printed or written words that are placed before them.  "R U with me so far?"  It used to be that I would get requests to translate letters sent from Germany. It was because the recipients didn’t know the language or recognize the letters with their special markings, etc. What I’m writing about here is nothing like that. It’s far more problematic.

Let me tell you that something relative took place in a class I was teaching just yesterday. The need for translating came about because a fellow who had been ill missed class. His buddy had been kind enough to take notes for him while hie was gone.  Then it happened… the sick dude, as he was called, was given the unreadable notes for the class taken by his buddy. But the notes were worthless! Why? Because the note taker’s "printing" was so bad that the words  were unintelligible for his friend. What made it worse, and, I think proves my point, the guy who took the notes was asked to decipher his printing and he couldn’t!  He couldn’t read his own writing. Ouch!

So… I guess I’m aiding and abetting the youngsters in their misery by making a pen that has both a ballpoint with which to write on one end, and a interactive tip on the other end with which to swipe or stroke a screen. Sometimes you have to ride two horses at the same time. Which brings me to my shop project for today. I was experiencing a little problem in achieving true roundness on my pen blanks. This I determined had to do with the flex of the mandrel that they’re turned on. So, when I came upon the solution presented by one fellow turner, I thought I’d give it a try. Well sure enough it worked…in the picture you can see how I still used the mandrel, but turned only one section of the stylus pen I was making. The note taker in the story above will get the stylus/pen with which to learn and to practice learning how to write in cursive while stroking his iPad. LOL!

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Storage is at a Premium


Over the past few days I’ve stayed away from turning pens or making pen blanks. Why? Well, like so many other things in my life I didn’t think ahead far enough to consider what I was going to do with the blanks once I had made them! I was so excited that I was having success in getting different species of wood from various sources, and then, with the new blade on my table saw I was able to make blanks with such reckless abandon. With all that excited success I hadn’t figured out where and how I was going to store them and organize them according to the different woods.  I began to think that I couldn’t be the first person to have such a problem and wondered what others might have done and/or be doing with all the various pieces of wood 3/4 x 3/4 5.25" piling up in their shops. So I started to look  on the internet. You know the saying, "You can find anything on the internet."… well, that’s almost true.  I picked up a few ideas while surfing, but, it became clear that if I wanted something to suit my needs I’d have to design and make my own.

So, I took a deep breath, got out my 6" ruler, a sharp pencil, and some plain paper. Actually I use the back sides of old bulletin stock that I have saved for note taking, scratch paper, and shop drawings…..  I keep them all filed in my hanging file folder system. That way I do know where old ideas are, and  I can dig out unfinished projects and/or  completed projects or tool evaluations that I’ve kept for later reference.


First I put down in writing the goals: 1) Storage, 2) sized to be portable, 3) able to be mated to another unit through a hinge system, 4) suitable for table display for shows, fairs or association meetings, 5) low cost as a proto-type, 6) dovetail construction with dados for divider panels. With these criteria articulated I began the process:

I drew, measured,  and erased until I came up with the storage cabinet proto-type pictured. It’s c. 24" x 24" x 5.5" deep with 16 –  5.25" square cubbies. (that’s 400 pen blanks of 16 different varieties at my fingers’ tips. A similar unit hinged and on a travel dolly would allow me to handle 800 blanks.  However, I plan another set for kits for pens and bottle stopper kits and blanks. I have since had suggested that I might include finished pen and stopper space as well.) Each cubbie will be labeled accordingly.

I looked at my scrap materials for low cost purposes and found that I needed to buy some 3/4" poplar, the rest I had on hand. Total cost for the project $32.86.

Before I could do anything, however, I had to learn how to do dovetails! Anybody do dovetail joints lately?  I remember from wood shop some 57 years earlier using a saw, ruler and sharp pencil and lots of practice to make a simple box. Times have changed. A few years ago I had the good fortune of getting a Leigh Jig as a gift from a widow. There were bits, a wrench, a square screw driver, some extra fingers, a video tape, and one of the best written instruction books I’ve ever read. I have the routers, so I thought, "okay, let’s get crackin!" Well, I want you to know that I spent more time reading, watching, and making mistakes over the past week or so than I will admit to my spouse. Whenever she would ask: "What are you doing down there anyway?" I would come up with a different and more creative excuse. Bless her heart, she’s lived with me long enough to know when I’m being innocently evasive, she will go to her sewing and knitting room without pressing me further. Yay!

As you can see the joints aren’t perfect, "But for the first time wad’ya expect?"  One thing I’m satisfied with is the fact that it turned out square!  Once I got this far I could show the little lady my project. She responded with: "Well now why don’t you make the granddaughters some ‘hope chests’ with corners like that?’" (There are six of them!) Talk about a slippery slope.

Back to pen blanks for now!

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A Great Day For Making Shavings!

Brrrr! Its cold outside!  (6F when I got up this morning) So I headed down to the shop to see what I could do.

I managed to turn another stylus pen. I use a 7mm slimline kt with the special tip provided by WoodCraft. Paid $5 for the kit before discount.   This one is destined for one of the youth in my confirmation class at church. He has and uses quite avidly an iPad and iPhone. Both of which he worked and saved for and, as he says: "I had a little help from my folks." He thinks its cool that his pastor is on Facebook and uses an iPhone.  I think he might see me as old and incapable… whatever!  The wood I used for this stylus/pen is from a piece of flooring that I was given. I’m not sure of the species, so I won’t say, but, whatever it is, it turned easily and took a great finish.

The second piece for today is a small bowl made from northern white birch from Itasca Co, Minnesota. It happened that my wife and I were exploring the side roads this past July and came upon a small mill set into the deep woods. To my good favor the sawyer was on hand and he had a couple of nice pieces of Birch, Cedar and Maple.  They were sound and not dosied, sized about  6" x 6" x 8ft. and priced right. I loaded them in my van, headed back to our place on the lake and proceeded to make bowl blanks out of them. I put some sealer on the ends and let them dry.  Today’s bowl is the first of that batch and it worked perfectly. Another first for this bowl was the tools I used and the finish I gave to it.  The tools are carbide tipped. I used a larger round, and a square wiith a radius to it… both worked well.  The the finish I applied was a commbination of sanding sealer and paint thinner. (3-1). The inside I finished with butcher block oil to see how the combination would look and last.

While all that was going on I put out  to drip dry and condition some pen blanks that I had immersed in Turners’ Choice. The board was a piece of kiln dried lumber that had been cut from a Walnut burl. I like walnut and the smell of cedar so I look forward to making some pens from that batch. I got about 25 blanks form the board.

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Pens for the interactive Screen in your life

The other day my oldest daughter stopped by for lunch. She does this quite often, and like her mother, she’s on the kick that has me on the perpetual diet. So I’ve been encouraged to journal my daily activities and calorie intake. So she says, "Okay Pops let’s add them all up and see how your doing."  So we carefully examined the online calorie counter for each food I was in the process of enjoying. Then, after we listed the calories we proceeded to add them up for a total lunch count. I’m on the Mac Air and she’s doing the numbers on her iPhone calculator. "Oh, Shoot!" I think I heard her exclaim. I asked what’s the problem? "Well I just had my nails done and it is really hard to hit the right numbers when I’m trying to keep up with you yelling them out to me like you are." I winced and slowed down.  After she went back to work, I thought there must be other folks having the same problem, not only with their nails, but because of the thickness of their fingers, and/or because they might have unsteady hands to begin with.

Then, this morning I received an email from my friend who’s an engineer type and he mentioned, totally unaware of my lunch "journaling"  incident, that he thought a dual purpose pen might really serve his purpose because he uses and iPad all day long and has found it a little inconvenient to have to pick up a pen to take notes on some paper pad or project note thing he’s working on at the same time. He said he was looking for something made of wood, with a little character instead of the usual plastic or metal ones he’s seen. His note was enough to get me thinking about this because I knew that there were two special people in my life that had a need, And I knew I could provide the solution. What you see here is the one I made for my daughter for today’s lunch "date."  Her comments: "It feels so good in my hand," and "It actually works!"

I’m thinking I’ve got to do a better job with the camera so you can see wood grain, color and matches better.  This is a piece of orange wood. The kit is a slim line gold with a black inlay on the pocket clip. As you can see it fits well in the feminine hand size. I have a version of the Wall Street II that will be perfect for the engineer and his bigger hand.

If you’re interested send me a note… send your wood preference and pen style…$29 gets you one … free shipping!

P.S.  The total lunch count for all food and beverages = 405! 

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Apple Companion

Today was one of those that presented a longer "to do" list because of the weather and the day of the week.  I managed to get an early start by removing the snow from our driveway and sidewalk. After the exercise and fresh air it was to my office to get some badly needed correspondence taken care of and to do a little cleanup. It went well and much to my surprise I was able to get the "work" stuff out of the way before 9:30AM!  As I was reading my email and taking a few notes along the way it occurred to me that I really didn’t have coordinated pen to be used at my desk while I was working on the "mac." So what to do about that?… easy enough let’s, make one!

What a deal! A really good excuse to get into my shop and make some sawdust. 

Actually I had been thinking about this for quite some time as I had picked up some 7 strand Baltic Birch plywood that I wanted to test on the lathe so this seemed like a good project for that purpose.

I simply sized it to the typical blank size 3/4 x 3/4  x 5.25", drilled it out for a Wall Street II pen kit and once I had inserted the tube using CA, and let it set for a while to dry,I mounted it on the lathe and began turning. I didn’t stabilize the wood, nor did I dye it, both of those treatments will come later on in the process of evaluation of plywood.  I read somewhere that after the blanks are turned to size, before any sanding it should be dyed, dryed, and then stabilized…I will give these a try to see how they turn out using this plywood.

The final step here is to share the final project with you. Since I haven’t progressed to video- cam, you’ll have to settle for pictures until I get up to speed on that technology.

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