Saturday, May 23, 2015

The place where cars go to die

There’s an old superstition that I grew up with - if you try a new food, you'll add 7 years to your life. I'm not sure if it's an Italian thing, or just a way of my parents getting me to try something new. But it always worked!

Either way, I feel like doing something new is good for my brain. It stimulates me and puts me thinking from a different perspective.  Damn, I did something recently that was so foreign to me, I felt like I was on a different planet.  It combined everything that's great about this city: grittiness, teamwork, reality, economy, race relations.... it was all that and more...

I went to Pic-a-Part! 

If you've never visited one of these places, I'd have to say that it's an acquired taste. The best description I can think of would be that it's an automobile junkyard, where you dig through the rubble, to find what you need. Like scavengers, picking boney carcasses. Kind of like Survivor, only with car parts. 

By the way - ladies get in free. What a deal!  

Admission for guys? One dollar. How can you beat that?

There are rows of dead vehicles, stripped of everything vital. Need a bumper, or an engine thingie? 

This is the place for you!

 Denny and I visited Pic-a-Part this week, as I was in need of a part for my truck, and I didn't feel like spending $150 for it from the dealer. The lid fell off my center console, and let me tell you, driving without it was a PITA. I never realized how much I leaned on this lid!

Of course, I could't locate just the lid. So off we went.

Lesson #1 - bring tools! I wouldn't have known this, had Denny not told me. 

We brought the old lid with us, and before entering the yard, one of the employees marked our part with some red paint. 

Walking through the miles of aisles, I wondered what the stories were behind some of these vehicles.  

Who camouflaged this SUV with spray paint? 

Why did this Lexus end up here? And what was that maroon stain on the seat? Premature delivery? Car accident? Off in the distance, there was a rumble, 

and then I realized what was approaching, where we were digging through the rubble.

 It's not every day you see one truck hauling another truck ten feet in the air. To everyone there, it seemed as normal as a forklift moving a stack of water softener salt at Home Depot.  

I thought it was amazing in its simplicity - moving a dead vehicle to its resting spot. Seriously, there was a certain gritty grace to this place. 

Come in, find what you need, get out.  But with an oil and grease flavor smeared into it.  
We finally located the row of abandoned Toyota trucks, and Denny quickly found the part we needed.

Here's the organ donor... I can't help but think this place is a hidden gem in the world of auto repair, although you have to put some effort into it. 

I'm sure a rear window and tailgate for a Range Rover is pricey, but here is a set in almost perfect condition! 

Some of the vehicles had a story to tell, that's for sure. Who took the time to put "my proven 4x4 hunter, with 2.4 power" on the tailgate of this truck? 

This vehicle was particularly well stripped.

The employees set up an engine hoist around this car, so that someone could pull out the block. I kept thinking this place is a car morgue. 

You're stepping over parts, and grime, baked for years in the sun. The place where cars go to die.

 With our part in hand, we paid as we exited the lot - $5.50! Not a bad deal at all, although I had to seriously sterilize it when I got home.

In the parking lot, a fellow shopper was having trouble trying to remove a part from his car, and Denny lent a hand. Well, actually - the guy didn't know a screwdriver from a cresent wrench, so Denny hopped under the car to help. 

 Once we got back to the shop, with a little finagling - the part was installed. It's not a perfect match, but hey - it's a truck! The color match is actually closer than it looks in this photo. With a little bit of antibacterial cleaner and some elbow grease, this part looks better than the original lid! 

And I have a great story to tell over beers sometime....

Monday, May 18, 2015

It's not too often something really innovative comes along

It's not too often that something new and completely revolutionary slips into the woodworking world - let alone something that is really helpful to the average woodworker. 

Sure, there are lots of inventions and gadgets out there, but after they're tested over time, they tend to be a bust. In my head, biscuit jointers are a perfect example of this. When they first came out, everyone had to have one. Now most of them sit on a shelf. I know; I have these two that sit on a shelf!

If I had to name some of the better inventions in the last twenty years or so, I'd have to include the Festool Domino, and maybe the Kreg jig.  

So the question is - does this drawer dado blade works as promised?  I see two potential problems that could occur. 

One involves chipout, because whenever you're working with plywood, you have the potential for massive chipping, especially if that blade gets dull. 

Next - when you're cutting your drawer material, the height of this blade is critical - too high and you end up separating the parts of the drawer. Too low and your joint doesn't fold together. So if your saw doesn't have a solid height adjustment on it, you might screw up a lot of plywood, trying to get it dialed in correctly. 

But damn - this is really innovative and clever...I  hope a blade company contacts this fellow soon!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

This should be your first piece...

There are a zillion woodworking books out there, and almost as many monthly magazines. Add in all the websites, videos, blogs, message boards - they're all filling your brain with plans, ideas, techniques... you get the idea. It's easy to get excited. Or to become overwhelmed, misled, confused or worse yet...

filled with invincibility. 

Hell yes, I can spend $100 and make a dresser in a weekend!

No,  you probably can't. Not if you want to do a good job, and do it properly. As much as people want to brag about their weekend doghouse project, or their Kreg jig fireplace mantle, you have to learn to pick your battles and tackle the projects that inspire you. That force you to do things well. 

And use good materials. 

And that turn out well. 

Have you seen the movie - The Perks of Being a Wallflower? There is a terrific sub-plot that takes place in a high school woodshop class, where all of the students have to make a clock. 

 I nearly blew my drink out of my nose when I saw the scene where  all of the student clocks were revealed - some were obviously better made than others.

 And so it is with most woodworking projects - a lot of them start off with the best intentions, and with a lot of dollars thrown behind them, only to see them wilt under the lack of attention to detail, or the poor followthrough of technique. 

Sadly, workbenches often suffer that same fate. And I'm not pointing my finger at anyone's bench in particular, but more at myself. I've built my fair share of wobbly router tables, tables sleds that weren't quite square, and or jigs that just didn't work right. They were often under-engineered, or poorly designed from the start.  But I built them, enthused by magazine articles that boasted - YOU can build THIS in a weekend!, as if speed is the ultimate goal. 

How about quality over expedience? 

How about learning solid techniques? 

How about starting with something that can be slightly less than perfect, so you can work a few bugs out along the way?

Fine, then let's build a workbench. 

We'll start with 6/4 Steamed Euro Beech. 

Its grain can be outrageously gorgeous.

You'll learn more about mortise and tenon joinery than you thought possible!

and along the way, you'll do some interesting techniques, like routing massive profiles in wood, 

and wedging tenons.

Ever install a hanger bolt? Now's your chance!

You'll learn some nifty layout techniques, and you'll be able to customize it for your own preferred working height.

Best of all, it breaks down easily for transporting it home. 

We'll be adding a shelf underneath, and if you want a vice installed on it - bring one to class and we'll bolt it into place, and add some dog holes, to boot. 

Seriously - this is a great project for building up both your skills, and your confidence. There are just three spots left - and the class starts in about a week. 

Here's a link:  MAKE A GREAT BENCH!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Who cut the cheese...

One of my favorite classes to teach is coming up – Advanced Cutting Board Techniques.

 Sometimes people think that cutting boards are overdone, that any Joe can make one, which is true.

But I look at them as little pieces of art. 

Some people look at them as juggling aids. 

We've had a couple of mishaps with chisels, but that's all part of the fun journey.  (She is a chef, so she's used to fingers with band-aids!)

You can apply all sorts of new techniques and designs into a board, it's good training for bigger projects. 


Proper lamination? 

Grain matching and alignment issues? 

You can learn it all by making a board, and everyone tells me that their family and friends all drop hints about wanting one.  

I mean– we all have to eat, right?

I keep a few finished boards around at all times, and whenever I go to someone's house for dinner, I bring one as a gift. We Italians never go anywhere empty-handed - and cutting boards go over WAY better than a bottle of wine!  

I even made one for my eye doctor!

Here's a terrific video about making very cool end grain board. If I can figure out how to make the stars without using a CNC machine, I think I will add this board into the class. 

Wanna make some cool stuff? There are only a few spots left in this class! It starts in about two weeks!