Looking for CNC projects to do for Christmas, I came across the Vectric Labs Blog where several ideas for Christmas projects were posted. One of the projects that caught my attention was a Tic-tac-toe game by Beki Jeremy in a 2014 blog post. This looked like something I could handle. I could use some ½ inch Baltic birch plywood and a couple of bit changes on the CNC machine and produce one, maybe even two or three.
Tic-tac-toe has always been a fun and often spontaneous game for children and adults alike. Children want to challenge adults to a game; that is, adults who can figure out how to lose, to make the children look good!
According to Wikipedia, a form of Tic-tac-toe may have been played during the time of the Roman Empire, first century BC. The game played at this time went by the name of Terni Lapilli. It is reported that the grid for this game were found chalked all over Rome.
In Claudia Zaslavsky’s book Tic Tac Toe: And Other Three-In-A Row Games from Ancient Egypt to the Modern Computer it is indicated that Tic-tac-toe may have had its origins in ancient Egypt. More recently, the game has taken on several different names including Noughts and Crosses, of British fame (1864) and Tick-tack-toe (1884). The American name of Tic-tac-toe didn’t come about until the 20th century. Wikipedia also reports that “In 1952, OXO (or Noughts and Crosses) for the EDSAC computer became one of the first known video games. The computer player could play perfect games of Tic-tac-toe against a human opponent.” By 1975, MIT students used Tic-tac-toe to demonstrate how a computer made almost entirely out of Tinkertoys could play the game.
Often the best outcome for two good players is a draw. If you really want your head to spin on your shoulders, delve into the combinatorial of Tic-tac-toe, the possible board layouts and game combinations. Look at the strategy of winning or obtaining a draw by choosing the first available move from a list in Newell and Simon’s 1972 Tic-tac-toe program. See more Newell and Simon here. But if advanced calculus is not your thing, get Newell and Simon’s list and challenge some unsuspecting five year old to a game of Tic-tac-toe. Or if you want to engage in an experiment to use Tic-tac-toe as a pedagogical tool to teach this five year old good sportsmanship, you could just cheat and beat the five year old.
For this project, I mounted a 2 foot by 2 foot piece of ½ inch Baltic birch plywood on the CNC machine’s sacrificial board. I pulled up the Tic-tac-toe file and checked the various tool paths to make sure it would work with my plywood. I did have to change the cutting depths to 0.51 inches to insure that I could cut all the way through the plywood. As it turned out, it would have been better to set this at 0.53 inches for my set up since the 0.51 inch setting was a hair short of cutting completely through my plywood sample. Other than this change, I used the original settings.
I loaded up the g-code for the profile cuts first and used a 1/4 inch shank 90 degree engraving router bit to make these cuts. Following all the profile cuts, I changed the bit to a ¼ inch shank 0.25 inch spiral up cut end mill to make the pocket cuts. Following the pocket cuts, I loaded up the various g-codes for cutting out the game board and X’s and O’s. These cuts provided tabs to keep the parts together until the parts could be separated with a sharp chisel.
All that remained then was to sand, seal and paint. Oh, and then to challenge my wife to a Tic-tac-toe game. Of course I would go first.
Christmas tree ornaments are favorites for lathe turning projects. Carl Jacobson and Alan Stratton are sponsoring their fourth annual Christmas ornament contest for wood turners. See their You Tube channels for details. Over the 15 years I have been turning wood projects, I have only turned Christmas ornaments once. That was after watching a video on how to turn a “fly house” from a branch out of the yard. This mini-birdhouse was a favorite with the grandchildren. Carl’s challenge reminds me that making Christmas ornaments for the grandchildren would be a good project this year. With 18 grandchildren, it may be a monumental project! To keep it simple and do-able in the time I have, I’ve decided to turn snowmen. This won’t win any competitions but hopefully it will be a winner with the grandchildren, especially if I put their names on the ornaments.
In preparation for this project, I referred to the “no-fooling-around” resource on the web, the Wikipedia site, to learn more about snowpeople.
“A snowman (or snowperson) is an anthropomorphic snow sculpture often built by children in regions with sufficient snowfall. In North America, typical snowmen consist of three large snowballs of different sizes with some additional accoutrements for facial and other features. Common accessories include branches for arms and a rudimentary smiley face, with a carrot standing in for a nose. Human clothing, such as a hat or scarf, may be included. Low-cost and availability are the common issues, since snowmen are usually abandoned to the elements once completed.”
One of the first photographic records of a snowman was taken in about 1853 and is shown below.
“The Snowman No. 2 (4095825226)” by Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru / The National Library of Wales from Wales/Cymru – The Snowman No. 2. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Snowman_No._2_(4095825226).jpg#/media/File:The_Snowman_No._2_(4095825226).jpg
Evidently there is no clear record of when the first snowman was made. Maybe it happened when a Neanderthal decided to make one to attract and trap a wooly mammoth. Bob Eckstein, author of a book entitled The History of the Snowman, documented snowmen constructed during medieval times by studying artistic work found in European museums, art galleries and libraries. One of the earliest illustrations he found was dated 1380.
Snowmen have been thrust into the competitive genre of “who is the biggest?” A record was established in 2008 in Bethel, Maine with a 122 foot, 1 inch snow-woman. Prior to this in 1999, Bechtel, Maine produced a snowman named Angus, 113 feet, 7 inches tall weighing 9,000,000 tons!
Okay, way too much information on snowmen. Because making a snowman is a fun winter activity, and decorating for Christmas is also a fun winter activity, it seems logical that our next project will be a snowman ornament.
The Hallmark Information web site offered some historical insight into Christmas decorating. Christmas trees have evidently been a holiday practice as far back as the 15th century in Germany, appearing in the Americas in the 1700’s. Evergreen trees showed up in religious plays adorned with apples and were referred to as Paradise trees. Later they were used in homes, and ornaments of small pastries in the shapes of stars, angels, hearts and flowers were hung on the trees. The custom of having Christmas trees spread through Europe and eventually was brought to America by German mercenaries fighting in the Revolutionary War. By the 1800’s Christmas trees were very popular in the United States. Many of the commercially available ornaments came from Germany. F. W. Woolworth brought the ornaments from Germany into the Five and Dime Era, selling $25 million worth of Christmas ornaments by 1890. At this time the German-made ornaments were cast lead and hand-blown glass. Over time, ornaments became more elaborate and more expensive. By 1925 Japan had entered the market and was shipping large quantities of ornaments to the US. Czechoslovakia entered the market and by 1935 over 250 million ornaments were finding their way onto US Christmas trees. By the beginning of World War II, American companies entered the ornament market. In 1973 Hallmark introduced ornamental glass balls.
I couldn’t find many historical notes on when hand-made wooden ornaments originated but they must have been used on early Christmas trees. Christ-Kindl Markt mentions “shaved wood” ornaments created by farmers, in their essay on German Christmas ornaments history.
A wooden snowman seems to be an appropriate historical object to adorn a Christmas tree or a holiday table. But one last concern, since these are going to my grandchildren, who range in age from about one year to 17 years: safety. I don’t mean safety at the lathe, that’s a topic for another discussion, but safety associated with the ornament.
The ANSI/ASTM approved ornament would probably have to be made of surgical grade stainless steel, one foot in diameter and equipped with seat belts! It would have to comply with mechanical/physical testing (choking hazard), flammability testing (oops maybe I’ll need to soak the wooden snowmen in a flame retardant such as boric acid), chemical testing (oops again, the boric acid may be toxic and I guess lead based paint is out of question), electrical testing (check, we got this covered) and labeling (guess it will have to be 12 inches in diameter to accommodate all the labels or I could use the trick like they use on TV: ultra fine print to list all the side effects that can result from use of this ornament).
I think I’ll play it safe and make some wooden table snowmen ornaments and paint them with child-proof paint in case the grandchildren gnaw on them. I’ll provide a lengthy Christmas letter with the ornament gift, that enumerates in great detail everything our family has done over the past year and sum it up with a three page, ultra fine print disclaimer associated with the use of the ornament.
I chose Southern Magnolia, AKA poplar, to make these snowmen, primarily because I had tons of it and secondly, I was going to paint them. Maple would have probably been a better choice but all of my maple is 4/4. I cut 2 1/2 inch square blanks 6 inches long and mounted them on a midi Jet lathe between centers. I mounted a Stebcenter drive in my scroll chuck and used this to turn the blank into a cylinder with a tenon. The blank was then mounted in the scroll chuck with the tenon and I let the chips fly. I used a combination of carbide tipped tools, a bedan and thin parting tool.
I did do some planning before I started turning. I tried to adhere to the 1/3 – 2/3 proportions. I do have plans to make a Fibonacci gauge but in this case I relied on the good ol’ 1/3 – 2/3 rule.
Once the snowman was parted off the lathe, my wife took over and turned this lifeless chunk of wood into a lively snowman.
I also wanted to provide my grandchildren with another memorable gift for the Christmas holidays, so in spite of my wife’s advice, I decided to add my Annual Christmas Satire to this blog. I must add a disclaimer that all figures in this essay are fictitious and any resemblance to anyone alive or dead is coincidental. It does answer the question….
Does Snowman 2 have a sibling and if so, what does he or she do?
By Solaroller (my pen name to protect me from the CIA, NSA, IRS, SPCA etc.)
Yes, Snowman 2 has a brother by the name of Shaved Ice, who is a gangsta’ rapper. They are actually step brothers, having been adopted by the same parents, Elmer and Madge Goldberg, both activists in the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The boys’ parents owned a large produce distribution company which gave them access to several large walk-in freezers, necessary to provide a comfortable environment for Snowman 2 during the spring and summer seasons. Their produce business also gave them a constant supply of carrots necessary to maintain Snowman 2’s proboscis (not to be confused with a worm’s proboscis, a long tubular sucking organ.)
Snowman 2’s birth parents had long disappeared sometime during the 1950’s while extensive above ground testing of the hydrogen bomb was taking place in New Mexico, Snowman 2’s birthplace. All that remains of Snowman 2’s parents is the Hot Mud Spa at the New Mexico Talladega Spa and Resort.
Snowman 2’s brother Shaved Ice was adopted by Elmer and Madge while they were on a trip to Havana, Cuba for their annual attempt to smuggle Cuban cigars into Miami, Florida. The cigars were painted yellow and shipped out of Cuba in crates of bananas in keeping with their produce business. Shaved Ice was found living in a dumpster behind a Cuban tattoo parlor, where, as a 10 year-old child, he would perform customized raps for tattoo parlor patrons. When they heard him sing “Elmer and Madge done outfoxed the Badge” to the tune of the Tiny Tim favorite “Tiptoe through the Tulips”, they knew that they had to have this little boy as part of their family.
Shaved Ice grew up to become a famous rapper at night while running the cigar smuggling business for Elmer and Madge during the day. All this went on year after year without Snowman 2’s knowledge. Snowman 2 did follow Shaved Ice’s climb to success as a rapper but was not aware of his nefarious cigar smuggling activities. It was only many years later that a series of events drove a wedge between these two loving brothers.
While on a gig at a Walmart parking lot in Carson City, Nevada, Snowman 2 encountered a young undisciplined boy by the name of Sheldon Wanarski, who grabbed three of Snowman 2’s buttons, typically made of lumps of coal, and ran off to a waiting car. Later it was learned that this little fellow was actually from a very disadvantaged home where the family barely had enough money to eat, much less pay to heat their home in the bitter Nevada winters. The little boy had taken the buttons to burn in their stove for space heating and to warm their porridge for dinner. Regardless, Snowman 2 was left buttonless, standing in the Walmart parking lot surrounded by hundreds of laughing, unsympathetic children.
Elmer and Madge were infuriated and spirited Snowman 2 off to their walk-in freezer while they figured out what to do. They contacted Santa to see if he could supply new buttons of coal, but were disappointed to hear that Santa had moved over to penguin poo as a substitute for coal. Elmer and Madge could not bring themselves to a decision to make this substitution for Snowman 2’s buttons. Upon hearing of this tragedy, Shaved Ice had a suggestion. He knew that Cuba still had connections with Russia. After the Cuban Missile Crisis of the 60’s Russia had begun to smuggle pin ball machines into Cuba. The Castros did not support any activity that brought joy to the Cuban people, so pin ball machines were outlawed. Over time, the unlawful entertainment machines advanced from pinball machines to Play Stations. As energy supplies in Cuba were strictly controlled by the government, the Cuban people had to pay exorbitant prices for energy. A black market developed, with the Russians smuggling lumps of coal into the country disguised as power supplies for Play Station games. Shaved Ice contacted his Russian customers for Cuban cigars and struck a deal. Russia would skim off some of the coal disguised as power supplies and divert these to Shaved Ice where he would paint them yellow and ship them into the US as bananas. All of this worked very efficiently until Snowman 2 happened to look more closely at one of his buttons and saw it was marked “made in Russia at forced labor camps”. He immediately went to Elmer and Madge and demanded to know what this meant. Elmer was never one to keep a secret and spilled the beans, telling Snowman 2 the whole history of his step brother and their smuggling business. Snowman 2 and Shaved Ice have since made peace with one another and now Snowman 2 uses penguin poo for buttons.
An inspiration from one of the You Tube woodworkers: Mitch Peacock’s Hallowood 15 challenge. We haven’t risen to the level where we are confident to take on You Tube challenges yet; maybe next year. But perhaps we can participate through a blog post.
We are still learning how to use some of this new technology, so we set out to see if we could make another tray puzzle, this time with a Halloween theme.
My wife drew a jack-o-lantern outline for me to vectorize and input to the laser software, so I could try cutting out a puzzle with a Full Spectrum laser. My ineptitude in dealing with all the software left me high and dry. I could get the drawing scanned and saved in an XPS format, but when I pulled it into the software all I could do was get a raster file, which I could use to burn an image on the wood but not cut the wood. Evidently you need to use drawing software that lets you save your file in a vector format. So I used the drawing software that came with the laser, albeit pretty simple, and I was able to hammer out what looks like a jack-o-lantern outline with lines added for the puzzle cutouts. My wife can then add embellishments to make it look like a real jack-o-lantern.
A little history to equate this project to the past:
According to the History.com website
“The practice of decorating jack-o’-lanterns [the name comes from an Irish folktale about a man named Stingy Jack] originated in Ireland, where large turnips and potatoes served as an early canvas. Irish immigrants brought the tradition to America, home of the pumpkin, and it became an integral part of Halloween festivities.”
The History.com website has the story of “Stingy Jack” and many other great current and historical content related to Halloween including a video by a master pumpkin carver. The carving of these jack-o-lanterns thus finds its beginnings in Ireland and Britain in the early 19th century. Lighted gourds may date back over 700 years, but not as a Halloween practice.
So here was the procedure for making the Hallowood puzzle:
• Produce a drawing using a vector format. I used the drawing software that came with the laser engraver. It didn’t give us a lot of avenues for creativity, so the pumpkin is pretty simple. My wife embellished it, which made up for the simplicity.
• Laser cut the pattern. I used 7 passes for a laser setting which was perfect for cutting through the 1/8 inch hobby plywood piece. The pattern was about 8 inches by 8 inches. If I had a better grasp of drawing this pattern I would not have cut out each tooth separately. The teeth were too small to be effective puzzle pieces. We left out the teeth and my wife ultimately painted a yellow background on the tray surface. The laser produces such a fine cut that the puzzle pieces fit very tightly in the tray. I had to do some sanding to loosen them up a little.
• Remove the puzzle pieces from the frame and lightly sand the pieces. Cut the frame to size and cut another piece of 1/8 inch plywood to form the back of the tray. Glue the tray back on the frame. Round over the corners, sand and apply a sanding sealer, in this case spray lacquer. Apply a sanding sealer to the puzzle pieces.
• Put the puzzle together and paint. This was the tricky part. The triangles for the eyes and nose were not exactly the same; another result of not knowing what I was doing when I drew the puzzle in the vector format. So once the pieces were arranged properly, my wife came up with a way to paint the pieces so their orientation would be obvious.
• Sign, date and apply a clear coat and give it to some deserving child of appropriate age.
We’ve had some interesting discussions lately about how to avoid getting cancer. One way is to quit smoking if you’ve been a smoker, or to never start if you haven’t been. But, living in the 21st Century, we can benefit from LOTS of prior research that tells us things we can do to avoid getting cancer. The older we get, the more I realize that none of us is immune to it.
While surfing the list of online courses offered by University of Florida, I happened upon this one you can take for just $20: TAKE CONTROL TO REDUCE YOUR CANCER RISK. You don’t need a college degree to guess that some things you can do to head off cancer include proper diet, exercise, using sunblock, and staying away from chemical exposure, right?
Googling cancer’s history brings up a wealth of horrific lore about how the disease was looked upon in the 19th century. Apart from the various forms of gender-specific cancers, cancer overall was thought to afflict mostly women. Men were encouraged to ramp up diet and exercise so as not to be “subject to women’s diseases.” [from The Emergence of Cancer as a Public Health Concern by Ornella Moscucci, Phil, BSc ].
So diet and exercise were emphasized in the 19th century, but perhaps not to the extent they are now. Our ancestors probably did lots more walking from place to place than we do, and had physically intense jobs to do, unless they were on the wealthy end of the scale. I’ve had ancestors from both the wealthy side and the poor side. The upscale ancestors may have entertained the notion of Physical Culture, in which exercise with light apparatus such as dumbbells, bar bells, ropes, and other props may have been employed.
Our affluence and abundance of leisure time may have added to our risk of ill health, by allowing us to overeat and under-exert. I just finished a 6-week class at the local gym called “Tighten Your Tummy” in which light apparatus, of the sort I’ve never encountered before, was employed. We used foam rollers, a BOSU, a Pilates ring, mushy balls, and exercise mats for two 30-minute intense workouts per week, in addition to a 30-minute minimal workout (like walking or yoga) per day.
I go to a one-hour yoga class every morning, and I’ve been toting some light apparatus with me in the form of a yoga mat. More and more, my fellow yoginis (I go to the Women’s Gym) have added to their caches of apparatus: blocks, straps, wedges, towels, light dumbbells and gripper things. Which is kind of funny, when you think about it, since one of the 8 limbs of yoga is Pratyhara, the withdrawal of the mind from sense objects. But we don’t get far into the metaphysical aspects of yoga, it’s more of a fitness regime for us.
It was time to sew a new and upgraded light apparatus carrier, since the mat bag I made a while back is barely big enough for the mat and nothing additional. While the Gaiam online store had a nice selection of bags and totes at fairly decent prices, of course I decided to make my own. I found a piece of beige pleather in the remnant stash, some purse magnets I ordered a while back from Nancy Zieman, and a length of funky, fringe-y woven trim in the ribbon, ruffle and trim stash. That’s all it took! Easy-peasy.
I’ve been making jigsaw puzzles for over 20 years, first for my children and now for grandchildren. The tools I use include scroll saws and bandsaws. The first puzzles I made were tray puzzles. Sometimes I traced my children’s hands on a piece of 1/8 inch thick Baltic plywood. I would then cut out the traced hands and separate the fingers from the palms. The hand shapes were cut from a square piece of the plywood, which then became a fitted frame for the hands. This frame was subsequently glued onto another square piece of 1/8 inch thick plywood to back up the frame and produce a tray to hold the puzzle pieces. I would then paint each finger a different color, as well as the palm pieces. I would then pick out a lighter color to paint the parts of the tray. Then using rub-on or vinyl letters, I would put numbers 1 thru 10 in each tray opening for the fingers. On the corresponding finger puzzle piece I spelled out the numbers: one, two, etc.
The pieces were then top coated with lacquer. All the paints were toy grade and non-toxic. However, note that the size of these pieces would pose a choking hazard for small children. ASTM F963 gives the standards governing children’s toys. As an example, a toy part must not be of a size to pass through a 1.68-inch diameter hole in a jig that is 1.18 inches thick.
Now when I first made these puzzles, I had no knowledge of these standards and after all, the puzzles were for my children, and not for sale! But I don’t think the children’s mother would look favorably toward having my toys choke the children. As luck would have it, my children were old enough at the time to safely handle the puzzles I made. Another popular tray puzzle I made was a segmented, multicolored caterpillar. The caterpillar was divided into 26 pieces. Each piece was labeled with a capital alphabet letter. Under the corresponding piece the tray was labeled with the lower case letter. Since then, many other puzzles have found their way from my scroll saw to the hands of my grandchildren: free standing puzzles, interlocking puzzles and more tray puzzles. My wife has provided the artwork in many cases, while I cut it into irregular interlocking pieces, to confuse the innocent.
I found over time that not only was the size of the puzzle piece a function of the child’s age but the number of puzzle parts was also a function of age. The table below is a general recommendation for the number of puzzle parts.
“A jigsaw puzzle is a tiling puzzle that requires the assembly of often oddly shaped interlocking and tessellating pieces. Each piece usually has a small part of a picture on it; when complete, a jigsaw puzzle produces a complete picture. In some cases more advanced types have appeared on the market, such as spherical jigsaws and puzzles showing optical illusions.”
In addition, newer puzzles can be spherical and 3-dimensional. Wikipedia continues…
“Jigsaw puzzles were originally created by painting a picture on a flat, rectangular piece of wood, and then cutting that picture into small pieces with a jigsaw, hence the name. Alternatively, it has been believed that the name of the puzzle may have given the tool its name. The origin of the name Jigsaw is not entirely known. Some speculate that upon completion of some difficult puzzles, the player would then perform a victory jig upon the puzzle. Performing this jig on the puzzle would check the structural integrity of the puzzle. Once the jig was observed upon the puzzle, the person who saw the jig would confirm that the structure was sound, hence jigsaw. This origin has little evidence to back its story and is based merely on interesting hearsay. The John Spilsbury, a London cartographer and engraver, is credited with commercializing jigsaw puzzles around 1760. Jigsaw puzzles have since come to be made primarily of cardboard.”
I’ve been specifically inspired by Hans Meier who is a member of the Gwinnett Woodworkers Association and who has several You Tube videos on scroll saw puzzles. I highly recommend his videos for detailed techniques on making a variety of puzzle types.
The project chosen for this blog post is a tray puzzle for one of our 5 year old grandchildren. He loves birds, fish and animals, so we chose a parrot. And even though he has worked puzzles we have made with 48 pieces, this picture lends itself to 12 pieces which is on the lower end of the recommended number for a 5 year old.
My wife, the artistic one of our blog team, sketched a parrot which I was able to divide into 12 puzzle pieces. This sketch was subsequently mounted on a 1/8 inch thick piece of Baltic plywood.
The parrot tray puzzle was a 13 step process:
1 Select a puzzle subject. In this case the grandchild dictated the subject matter.
2 Sketch an outline of the puzzle subject, a parrot. My wife sketched the parrot and selected the colors. The sketch is then divided up into the required number of puzzle pieces attempting to select areas of the figures that will either make it easy or difficult to solve the puzzle. It’s important to consider the size of the pieces.
3 Use contact spray cement to attach the sketch to a suitably sized piece of 1/8inch thick plywood.
4 Drill a starter hole in the sketch with a 1/16 inch diameter drill bit. Think about this location. The object is to be able to completely cut out the whole figure from the board, leaving the remainder of the board as the frame for the puzzle.
5 Using a number 0 46 TPI spiral scroll saw blade, the outline of the subject (in this case the outline of the parrot) is cut out.
6 Once the subject has been removed from the frame portion of the board, the subject is cut into pieces. For the parrot puzzle, 12 pieces were selected. The body parts of the parrot were selected to be parts of the puzzle. Several miscellaneous cuts were included to add some challenge to solving the puzzle.
7 Use mineral spirits or a heat gun to remove the paper sketched pattern from the frame and puzzle pieces.
8 Lightly sand the frame and puzzle pieces.
9 Cut another 1/8 inch thick piece of plywood that will form the back of the puzzle (i.e. the bottom of the tray). Lightly sand this board.
10 Glue the tray bottom to the bottom of the frame.
11 Apply a sanding sealer to all the puzzle and tray parts and lightly sand with 320 grit sandpaper.
12 Paint the puzzle with toy safe acrylic paint and apply a clear top coat of lacquer.
13 Mail puzzle to subject grandchild and wait for kudos!!
Using current technology to create 19th Century crafts