Category Archives: Woodturning

Reverse Engineering a Springtime Sewing Project

Last week was our Spring Break and we did a whole lot of nothing.

Not complaining,,,not exactly. Our little “first world” problems are not really problems, but choices. We did a lot of householder-type things. And we helped and connected with some other people in our sphere of acknowledgement, ha ha, our little universe. How do you decide if a project is worthy of your time, talent, and trouble?

One thing I took on was to fix some pillows at the request of someone in my circle who takes care of an elderly fellow.

before jennyskip
needlework pillows, before

 

wool pillows jennyskip
underside, wool fabric

Someone in the old man’s life had done a marvelous job of creating the needlepoint canvases on these beauties, which now showed a faded frog (?) on a toadstool in the rain and a green polka-dotted slug (?) under a cascade of spring flowers. The pillows themselves looked to be handmade out of a sumptuous yellow wool fabric. But apparently a dog had used them for sport, and the stuffing was popping out of a number of unsightly shreds.

The first step was to undo. The manual equivalent of the “undo” link was to rip out all the seams so that the pillow pieces were left intact,

undoing needlepoint jennyskip
Undoing the stitching to salvage the needlepoint (to the left is the new fabric)

to be used as patterns for the replacement fabric. It turned out to be the first real workout I had with the lovely seam ripper Skip made for me, by turning it on the lathe (see kit here).

seam ripper jennyskip
seam ripper
pattern jennyskip
using the old pieces as a pattern

I also saved the cording that was inside the piping edges, two strips of piping for each pillow. The new fabric was a piece of cotton (as far as I know) I had in the stash.

piping jennyskip
creating new piping with old cording

The machine has a special foot that I love to use when applying mini-piping, the pre-packaged kind made by Wright’s, but that little groove was not going to work with this larger cording.  So I used the narrow zipper foot, an attachment that is handy for a lot of tasks.

narrow zipper foot Viking jennyskip
narrow zipper foot

Next, I needed to sew the piping onto the new pillow backs, and then onto the side panels.

side panel pillow jennyskip
attaching a side panel

On the first pillow, I went ahead and attached the top piping to the side panel, then sewed the needlepoint panel on 3 sides to the sandwich of piping and side panel. The fourth side would be hand-stitched after the fabric was turned inside out and stuffed with the pillow form. On the second pillow, I sewed the piping directly to the needlepoint panel, then sewed the piped needlepoint piece onto the side panel: I believe this is how the pillow was originally made because I could see the hand-stitching that closed the opening in between piping and panel, after the pillow had been turned inside out and stuffed.

hand stitching jennyskip
hand-stitching the opening between the piping and side panel
stuffed pillow jennyskip
turned, stuffed, and ready to be hand-stitched

On the pillow in the forefront above, I hand-stitched directly to the needlepoint canvas, which I didn’t really feel good about, because the machine-stitched one behind it will probably hold up better. I reused the original down pillows, which were scrunched-up a lot inside the smaller pillow casings. But apparently that’s how the owner liked them and they’re very cushiony.

Eucalon sponge bath jennyskip
Eucalan sponge bath

The needlepoint panels were a little faded and soiled-looking, but I didn’t know if I should try to wash them. I finally went to the yarn store and procured a bottle of Eucalan, a highly recommended no-rinse washing preparation for wool and other delicate fabrics. As the brand name hints, it’s made from eucalyptus oil and lanolin. The lady at Yarn Works cautioned that the article shouldn’t be soaked in a liquid because that would remove the sizing from the needlepoint canvas. So I mixed about a spoonful in a bowl of warm water and dabbed a clean wash cloth in it, then wrung it out and gently rubbed it over the smudgy areas of the needlepoint. It didn’t come out looking brand-new; actually I can’t tell any difference in the color or brightness, but after it dried it smelled a little better than before.

I wonder what the story was behind those little pillows–were they made by his wife, who has been gone for a few years now? Or were they made by another family  member or a cherished friend? I hope they bring to mind a little spring-time cheer!

 

 

 

 

One more time—a fire ant pen

 

The last attempt resulted in a really unsatisfactory outcome, to say the least! This time, I took on a new approach.  Instead of coating the brass tubes of a pen kit with dead fire ants, I decided to mix the fire ants with Alumilite resin and then pour the mixture into a Slimline mold.  The nubs in the mold would leave an imprint on each of the pen blanks, which would provide a guide for drilling the 8mm holes required for the Slimline Pro brass tubes. Once the resin had cured, the casting was removed and the pen blanks separated and drilled. The blanks were equipped with Slimline Pro bushings and placed on the lathe pen mandrel.

I turned the blanks without incident, using a carbide finishing tool. I then sanded the turned blanks up through 500 grit.  After applying several coats of thick CA glue, the blanks were wet-sanded with micro mesh to 12000 grit, wiping the blank with a paper towel after each grit.  A plastic polish was used to finish up the blanks.

The final outcome was a very smooth, somewhat glossy surface. There were some white blushes on the surface which were probably due to areas in the casting where the fire ants may have separated from the mixture. Fire ants do float! (see our first fire ant pen blog) Also since the casting had fire ants mixed throughout, when the blanks were turned any ants near the surface would be sheared off, leaving a surface etched with small shavings of the ant bodies.  I hope my fire ant research friend can see more detail under the microscope!

In conclusion, this method provided a more conventional method of turning a pen blank. There were no blowouts and a relatively smooth and finish-friendly surface. I’m just not sure anyone can tell that there are about 1000 fire ants in there!

finished fire ant pen craftsbyjennyskip
finished pen

Another 3-D Printer Pen

 

The last pen we built, using a couple of cylinders printed  with the Dremel 3D printer, was treated with red gilt. I did not sand the pen because in previous attempts, the plastic overheated and softened. This time I decided to wet sand the plastic cylinders using a range of micromesh pads. This produced a very smooth surface. My grandson wanted a pen with a gold color so I used an antique gold gilt. He seems to be happy with the appearance even though the gold is not shiny gold, but antique gold. I applied several coats of thin CA glue, to add extra protection for the gold finish. I did make another pen for his mother leaving the white surface with no added color.

So,  I am happy with the surface produced with wet sanding.  The next attempt I would like to make, is to use the 3D software to design more interesting surfaces.  This may have to wait, while I work on another fire ant pen.

 

3D pen craftsbyjennyskip
3D printed pen blanks

 

3D printed pen blanks craftsbyjennyskip.org
antique gold

Fire Ant Pen Fail

 

After our last blog and YouTube video on a fire ant pen build , a follower of ours from Australia asked if we could make a fire ant pen for her.  This was several months ago, and we have just gotten around to finding the time to try this pen build again.

 

I had forgotten how I successfully completed this project last time.  Since it took me two tries before, I was hoping I could get it right the first time, this time!

I took the brass tubes from a slim line pen kit and coated them with thick CA glue before rolling them in a pile of dead fire ants. After coating the tubes with fire ants, I placed the tubes in a 7mm pen blank mold.  Using Alumilite resin, I covered the brass tubes and fire ants using the 7mm silicon pen blank mold.

After the resin cured, I removed the pen blanks, and squared off the ends with a disk sander.  The blanks were placed on a pen mandrel set in a minilathe.  Using a carbide turning tool, the blanks were turned down to the bushings for the Slimline pen kit. The blanks were then sanded through the grits to 500 grit sandpaper.  The sanding was followed by several applications of thin CA glue. Following the CA glue application, the blanks were wet-sanded with microbes to 12000 grit.

The pen kit was assembled using a pen press. I sat back and took stock of the final product….. it was dog ugly!! (I can say this since I have cats).  I’m not just saying this because it is made of fire ants..it really is ugly.  The Alumilite didn’t cure properly, probably because there must have been some moisture in the fire ants. I’m not sure that is the reason, since the fire ants were cleaned with ether and dried.  Besides the white streaks, several pieces of the Alumilte and fire ants broke off the brass tubes while turning.  I tried to patch the voids with thick CA glue mixed with the turnings, but with little success. The final cylinders left the lathe, looking lumpy and ugly.

So what have I learned?  Probably to never try this again!  But I will. Next time I’ll paint the brass tubes black before adding the fire ants. I’ll saturate each layer of the fire ant applications with thin CA glue. I might also use sandpaper to finalize the shaping of the blanks after a rough turning with a skew.    Hopefully this will reduce chip-out during the shaping.

Watch out for a follow-up blog/video on another  fire ant build. This pen will not find its way to Australia!

Another 3-D Printer Pen, Following up on Some Viewer Suggestions

If you saw our previous YouTube/blog on my 3-D printer attempt to make a pen blank, you know it was a complete failure. I had hoped to be able to produce a conventional-sized pen blank and then turn this blank into a unique shape.  I had used a variety of tool types but with no success. I also found that trying sandpaper was not a good idea in that the friction heated up the plastic to the melting point.  Several viewers suggested printing up various other types of blanks, so  I decided to try printing a cylinder to match the required barrel size for a pen.

The pen kit I selected was a PSI Woodworking Products #PK-PENXX “Slimline – Pro” Gelwriter Click Pen.  I also used a #PK-PENXXBU 3 piece bushing set. The two barrels for this pen are each 2 1/32-inch long with an 8mm hole for the brass tube insertion.  The outside diameter of the bushings is about 10.7 mm.  This would set the turn down diameter for the ends of the pen barrels.

pen project craftsbyjennyskip.com
designing the project

Using the 123Design software supplied with the Dremel 3D printer, I designed a 10.7 mm diameter cylinder 2 1/32-inches long with a 8mm diameter hole. I exported this to the Drexel 3D printing software. Using the white filament, I printed one set of pen barrels.

3D pen craftsbyjennyskip.com
3D printed pen barrel in white filament

The 8mm holes appeared to be too tight to insert the brass tubes so I decided to take an 8mm drill bit and ream out the holes to the proper size, BAD IDEA!! The friction of the bit generated enough heat to reduce the barrels to a white plastic blob hanging off the drill pit. So I took a set of barrels and tried to press-fit the brass tubes. It worked!! And the fit was so tight that glue was not necessary.  Using two barrels with brass tubes inserted, I built up one of the “Slim-line Pro” pens. This was a test, so I made no attempt to apply a finish to the plastic. I would not recommend this otherwise.  The texture of the plastic barrels is not mirror-smooth and would be easily stained under normal use.

3D pen test craftsbyjennyskip.com
test pen complete

On to another pen build… taking two more barrels, I press-fitted a brass tube into each barrel. I then used the bushing set to mount the barrels on a pen turning mandrel and set the mandrel into the head stock and tail stock on my lathe.  Using Tulip Red Gilders Paste Wax, I applied two coats of wax, wiping off the excess and buffing after each coat.  Following this step, I applied nine applications of thin CA glue.  After this glue cured, I took Micro-mesh wet-sanding pads and sanded the CA finish from 600 to 12000 grit. I followed this up with a plastic polish.  The final pen build is satisfactory but the surface of the barrels has a slight ripple that can’t be covered over with thick CA glue.  In the future, I may try some different colored filaments.  I have also air brushed 3D builds with some success. An air-brushed design protected with CA glue might be a good option.  More on this later.

tulip red pen craftsbyjennyskip.com
red 3D printed pen project

Here’s the You Tube video of the process:

 

Step-by-step Process of Making a Rollerball Pen out of a REAL Cigar

 

Earlier in the year, one of my students was nice enough to give me a cigar to turn into a pen for my niece’s husband.  I told my student that if he could get me another cigar, I would make him a pen, for his generosity in helping me with the earlier pen.

This was special for this student, since a friend of his has started rolling cigars. (Take a look at our earlier blog for some historical notes on cigar production on Florida.) His friend’s cigar company is Bat Brothers Cigars. I was told how it got its name but I think I’m suppose to keep it a secret.  The cigar he gave me was a nice fat cigar and looked like it would make a great pen blank.

I decided to use the PSI Classic Elite 2 pen kit with the roller ball option.  This pen kit has two barrels and looked like it would be perfect for the length of the cigar I had to work with.  So I removed the cigar’s paper ring and set off to stabilize the cigar.

cigar craftsbyjennyskip.com
cigar ready to be made into a pen blank

Before putting the cigar in the vacuum chamber, I snipped off the mouth end of the cigar so the resin would be able to easily enter the cigar from both ends. I then placed the cigar in the vacuum chamber, placed the retainer on top of the cigar to hold it in place and covered the cigar with Cactus Juice, allowing about an inch more of liquid above the cigar. I then turned on the vacuum pump and began to close down the vent valve to place a vacuum in the chamber. Then I waited for the bubbles to stop coming out of the cigar, an indication that all the voids in the cigar would be full of resin. And I waited, and waited! I was surprised to note that this cigar took an exceptionally long time to fill with resin. The previous cigar had not taken anywhere near as long. I think this was a good sign that this cigar had more voids, and might end up more stable than the last cigar I did.

After the bubbling stopped, I released the vacuum, letting the chamber return to atmospheric pressure, and removed the cigar quickly and wrapped it tightly in aluminum foil. While all this was going on, I had preheated the oven to 200 degrees F. I built a small aluminum foil dish and placed the wrapped cigar in the dish to protect the oven if any of the resin leaked from the wrapper on the cigar. I waited about three hours and removed the cigar from the oven and let it cool to room temperature. When I finally unwrapped the cigar, I found it was rock hard. I didn’t remember the other stabilized cigar being this hard. I concluded that this was consistent with the longer time it took to completely fill the voids with the Cactus Juice. This cigar was more completely filled with resin.

I went to the disk sander and sanded each end of the blank. I observed that each end of the cigar blank was filled with resin, resulting in a smooth surface after sanding. Of course during the sanding process I got to experience the smell of fresh cigar smoke! This was in spite of having on a dust mask.

I took the brass tubes from the pen kit, measured off the length of each end of the blank and used a band saw to cut the two barrels for the pen. There was just a small scrap of the cigar left. Then I set up my lathe with a pen chuck and a Jacob’s chuck to drill the 10mm hole through each blank. This created a lot of cigar dust which proved useful later on in the process.

I roughed up each brass tube to give their surfaces a little tooth for the glue-up into the blanks. I used 80 grit sandpaper for this. Using thick CA glue, I glued each tube into its appropriate cigar blank.  (I would find out later that I could have done a better job of gluing. ) Once the glue had set, I went to the disk sander to trim up the ends of the blanks down to the brass tubes. Lots more cigar smell and cigar dust!

I then inspected the ends of the blanks. The ends looked pretty solid, but as a precaution, I put some thin CA glue on the ends, hoping it would wick down into the large pores that I could see. Using the proper bushings for this pen kit, I mounted the pen blanks on the pen mandrel and prepared to turn the project.

The cigar blanks were still coated with some resin so I decided to use 80 grit sandpaper to remove this, before I started using any turning tools. To remove the majority of the blank, I desired to use a round carbide tool. I turned the blanks with very light cuts, stopping often to check the work. My previous experience with a serious blowout prompted me to work slowly and carefully as I turned the cigar. I was making great progress when my worst fears came to fruition: the smaller blank exploded in pieces!  I found all the pieces and began gluing the blank back together. There were a few voids left, which I filled with a mixture of CA glue and some of that cigar dust I had collected. Looking at the way the blank came apart, it appeared that the failure was due to insufficient glue contact between the brass tube and the cigar.

Back to the lathe! Since I was very close to the diameters of the pen bushings, I decided to finish up the turning with 80 grit sandpaper. This worked very well and allowed me to quickly complete the rough “turning” and move onto final sanding. After sanding to 500 grit dry sandpaper, I cleaned the surface of the blanks and began the application of thin CA glue. After a few coats, I checked the surface of the blanks and used thick CA glue to fill any imperfections.  I wasn’t looking for perfection since this was a cigar. After 10 coats of CA glue, I went to the wet sanding with micro-mesh to 12000 grit, cleaning the surface between grits. I followed this up with the One Coat plastic polish.

Finally I could remove the blanks and assemble the pen. All in all, I was happy with the final pen and hope my student will be happy with it also.

fine cigar pen craftsbyjennyskip.com
finished fine cigar pen

I guess the next pen will be a revisit to the ant pen in response to one of our Australian viewers.

Making a Pen Blank with a 3D Printer

Skip, as a wood turner, stores a number of items that can be made into pens. He likes to keep a little stash of acrylic and wooden blanks of various colors and species, so that he can make a pen when the urge strikes. But, he also thinks up ideas for pen blanks that are anything but traditional: fire ants encased in acrylic, unsalted-in-the-shell peanuts, cigars from the Dominican Republic or Cuba, and other things.

Having been a recent recipient of a contest prize from Zac at NV Woodwerks, a package of Alumalite, an awesome pen blank material, Skip has been wondering what his next project might be.

Since getting the Dremel 3D printer, we’ve gotten it to print out a little stormtrooper action figure, a spaghetti measuring tool, buttons, earrings, a bow-shaped cookie cutter, a hockey puck with someone’s name on it in 3D lettering, and parts for a small sword. And we’ve also had our share of epic fails, too.

The Internet is packed with .stl files, which the printer needs to read to do a project.  Some of them that we’ve used didn’t pan out well. We made the cookie cutter using a Thingiverse Customizer. We’ve called upon our artistic family members to come up with some cool .stl files for us to try out. But we realize it is hard to just sit around and make things, when you’ve got a job and a family and grass to mow and laundry to fold, etc.

Was Skip’s first attempt at a 3D printed pen blank a success or a failure? Take a look….

 

TURNING a NOSTEPINNE on the LATHE

nostepinne craftsbyjennyskip.com
nostepinne, winding a center-pull ball of yarn: Quince & Co Kestrel 100% organic linen

Is it the wand of Dumbledore, or the wand of Mickey Mouse the sorcerer, or maybe the switch your Aunt Gertrude chased you around the house with? No, no, no it’s a nostepinne!

The first I ever heard of the nostepinne was a few years ago when my wife asked me if I could make a yarn swift and a nostepinne.  Oh yeah, I can do that…. Sure… they are made out of wood, right?  After some research I found out what these devices accomplish for knitters. In the case of the swift, it is a device to hold a skein of yarn while it is wound into a ball.  The nostepinne is used to wrap the yarn into a ball that will feed yarn from its center (a center-pull ball).

Wikipedia says that:

   “The nostepinne, also known as a nostepinde or nøstepinde, is a tool used in the fiber arts to wind yarn, often yarn that has been hand spun, into a ball for easily knitting, crocheting, or weaving from. In its simplest form, it is a dowel, generally between 10 and 12 inches long and most frequently made of wood, around which yarn can be wound. Decoratively and ornately carved nostepinnes are common. The top of the nostepinne sometimes incorporates a notch or a groove, which allows one end of the yarn to be held secure while the rest is wound into a ball”

If you go to Spinartiste , you will find some images of very ornate nostepinnes.  This site states “The word “Nostepinne” has originated from Scandinavia and in Norway, it is actually called ”Nøstepinne” where the “ø” is pronounced like the “u” in the word “hurt”. In Sweden, it is often called ”Nystepinne.”

The traditions associated with nostepinnes in Norway were many… they were given as Christmas gifts, engagement gifts, or a gift from a boy to a girl to show her he was interested in her.  The more accomplished wood carvers would hollow out the handles of the nostepinne with captive balls inside.  These could also be used as baby rattles.

I have made my wife a couple of nostepinnes and even a swift. This time I decided to be a little more adventurous and add some carvings and maybe even some laser engraving to keep up with our theme of bringing 21st century techniques to 19th century crafts.

The design I lasered onto the handle of the nostepinne is derived from Norse Symbols And Their Meanings

(Source symboldictionary.net):

A modern representation of the Web of Wyrd, the matrix of fate (wyrd) as woven by the Nornir, the fates of Norse legend. The emblem, nine staves arranged in an angular grid, contains all of the shapes of the runes and therefore all of the past, present, and future possibilites they represent. The web of wyrd serves as a reminder that the actions of the past affect the present and that present actions affect the future; all timelines are inextricably interconnected- in a sense, it is a representation of the tree of life.

Woodworker for President?

What qualities might a woodworker like to see in a candidate for president, the leader of our country?

  • Woodturners like to work with green wood.  Green wood is easy to work on the lathe… however, it will probably sling water at your face shield.  It also tends to change shape and crack as it  ages, usually over a term of one year.  We are generally impressed by its figure in the beginning but as the cracks form along the grain of this figure we are disappointed. So maybe we don’t want a green wood candidate for president.
  • Some woodturners and many general woodworkers like seasoned, kiln-dried wood.  This wood is about 8-9 percent moisture, very stable but more difficult to work. When you work it, it produces more dust, requiring you to wear a respirator to protect your lungs. This wood has been around for awhile and may surprise you as you cut it, to find some history buried in the fibers, that cause the wood to spring into a different shape. More experienced woodworkers may prefer air-dried wood. This wood seems to be easier to work, like green wood, but is more stable. So maybe we might like a president who is more like air-dried wood.
  • There are many ways we can join pieces of lumber  into some useful implement: loose tenons, mortise and tenon, glue and screw, glue and nail, pocket hole techniques, etc.  Some of these techniques are quick to solve the problem of joining two dissimilar shapes of wood, but the connections are weak and will not stand the test of time. Some are strong and will provide an heirloom-quality connection.  We need a president who can form strong, lasting commitments to bonding dissimilar people and ideals.
  • Woodworkers like to have a variety of tools in their arsenals: hand tools, power tools, computerized tools.  The trick is to select the right tool for the right job. Are we looking for accuracy, speed, portability or maybe some special quality or texture?  It isn’t necessarily how many tools we have, but do we have the right tools for us? Will some of these tools be able to take our mediocre ability to a new level? Can these tools be trusted to come up to full capability quickly?  Will the accuracy of these tools always be there when we need it?  Will we end up spending dollar after dollar to keep these tools operational and will we get a good cost-to-benefit ratio over the life of our tools? Are the tools designed to be forward-compatible as the tool technology changes? In other words, will the battery we buy with the tool today work with the tool we buy tomorrow? We need a president who will select advisors, cabinet members and agency heads that provide the same qualities as a good arsenal of tools; a president who looks for the best tool to do the job and is not afraid of getting rid of a tool that has outlived its usefulness.

Providing Oversight for a Safe Environment

  • Woodworkers have to deal with issues today that our forefathers and mothers didn’t directly deal with in the past, such as lack of common sense and being focused on our work flow. Woodworkers in the past had accidents, no question, but they also had a focus and method of workflow that kept them relatively safe.

The tools we work with today run at high speeds, and in many cases they produce harmful higher-frequency noises. We can now hold machines in our hands that have cutting surfaces spinning at thousands of rpms.  We turn large pieces of wood on lathes at thousands of rpms. We find that in this world of noise, speed, portability, dust, fumes, VOC’s, and flying wood particles that, like the OSHA cowboy, we can hardly get to our tools for all the safety devices we wear! Only kidding, I’m a strong proponent of safety devices, the right ones for the right applications. [See our blog on lathe safety.]  Is the respirator we are using suitable for the size of dust particles we are exposed to, or for the fumes or type of VOC’s produced?  Is our hearing protection suitable for the sound pressure levels produced at the frequency involved? Too much of the wrong hearing protection, and we may lose the ability to realize changes in our work environment that might give us insight to how our board is reacting to our cutting machine. Is our face shield rated to some safety standard and is that rating suitable for the job? A set of safety glasses won’t necessarily protect your eyes from an acetone splash occurrence.  Gas- or liquid-tight googles won’t protect you from a three pound chunk of wood flying off the lathe at 2500 rpms.

  • Safety is extremely important to the woodworker. A president of a leading power in the world has the responsibility to provide the correct level of safety for the homeland.  The homeland needs to be constantly informed on what tools our administration needs to use to provide this safety. The tools must be specific to the danger and proportional in cost and application for the danger.  We need to use our fantastic network of news and social media to inform the homeland on the basics of these without giving away the farm. Though we may be the leading power in the world, it’s a relatively small world, one to which our president has further responsibilities regarding safety and oversight. This is an awesome task for any one person or even a group of experts, and certainly should not be delegated to a group of political cronies .  The president of our great nation should take on leadership in the world. 

Commitment rather than Compliance

But a leader is not a boss.  I learned this from a very strong leader of a major corporation.

The boss drives his men; the leader coaches them.

The boss depends on authority; the leader on good will.

The boss inspires fear;  the leader inspires enthusiasm.

The boss says “I;” the leader says “we”.

The boss assigns the tasks; the leader sets the pace.

The boss says “Get here on time;” the leader gets there ahead of time.

The boss knows how it is done; the leader shows how.

The boss makes work a drudgery; the leader makes it a game.

The boss says “go;” the leader says “let’s go”.

The world needs leaders but nobody wants a boss.

The difference between a boss and a leader is that the boss gets compliance, the leader gets commitment.  If you want commitment rather than compliance, you have to earn it and you have to keep earning it every day!

Keeping an Eye on the Economy

Woodworkers must try to be cost-conscious in their tasks. Wow, that is a stretch. Given enough resources in the form of currency, we probably would blow most of these resources on tools. But a perfect woodworker would only buy the tools needed to accomplish the day-to-day projects and would only purchase the quality of wood needed for the project. This woodworker would plan out a cut list to minimize waste, maybe even look ahead to see how the waste wood for one project would fit into the cut list of a future project. But let us not forget where this money comes from.  As an economist would say, “there is no free lunch!” Someone has worked, provided a service, invested, taken risk, or borrowed to get this resource.  The question for the woodworker becomes one of understanding the margin. What opportunity is the woodworker giving up to take this money to buy this tool or wood? What is the return, the sale of the woodworking effort, or a grin on a grandchild’s face?

Woodworkers are concerned about our natural resources, especially wood.  We see projects to use pallet wood for a multitude of applications. We see woodworkers concerned about sustainability of the wood we use. 

 I found the concept of “urban forestry” a useful concept in solving a problem resulting from 21st century applications of sustainable energy. In a few words, I took advantage of a tax credit (supported by you taxpayers) and a feed-in-tariff contract from my local utility (paid for by the other utility customers) to install a photovoltaic system completely manufactured overseas except for the aluminum supports. Remember, “there is no free lunch.” If it hadn’t been for a desire to investigate this method of producing power, I couldn’t have considered this very ethical.  So what has this do with woodworking?  This environmentally-friendly solar system would only work at full capacity if several mature trees in my back yard were cut down.  I called a couple of local tree surgeons and found two companies that could work together to cut down the trees, process them into usable lumber and sticker and stack the lumber in my back yard for air drying. So I now have a stock of wood that I can will to my grandchildren.

Conservation of our Resources

  • What value should our president put on sustainability? What can we do to encourage good use of our natural resources, such as energy, air and water?  In my engineering experience, I have found that there are not many technological solutions to our problems with sustainability that are sustainable. This may sound trite, but the only tried and true solution is conservation.  This requires education at all levels of income and a change in our basic culture.  This will not be an easy task. A president must be able to value the complex relationships involved in sustainability, and communicate that technology throughout the globe. It is not easy to see how a butterfly flapping its wings in the Butterfly Museum can result in a tsunami on the other side of the world.

As a case in point, you can argue until you are blue in the face that carbon dioxide emissions are not causing global change. Who can argue that taking carbon buried in the ground for millions of years wouldn’t have some effect when reacted with the oxygen in our air?  Water vapor is a global warming vapor and we put zillions of gallons of this into the air every day.  A paradox…power plants evaporate gallons of water every minute to reject heat from burning fossil fuels that produce carbon dioxide. Conservation affects both effects.

Woodworkers certainly don’t have to deal with the complexity of the problems facing our president every day but 300 million plus American patriots, including woodworkers, should respond to educated and sincere leadership.

Working with Defective and Destructive Elements

Every once in a while, defective wood finds its way into a woodworker’s shop. One type of defect in wood is a knot. There are knots that are loose and some that are firmly entrenched in the lumber. Woodworkers can generally see the knot as an enhancement to the project if it can be stabilized and used as an accent in the finished project. But when a loose knot finds its way across the workshop border, it presents a unique challenge. The woodworker may be able to isolate the knot from the rest of the lumber and then use epoxy to lock it in place. However, this may challenge the woodworker’s finishing process and may be a distraction to completing an heirloom piece of work. Another defect that finds it way into the shop is spaulted wood. This is wood on the way to becoming pulpy and rotten.  However, if the woodworker can stabilize the spaulting, it may add diversity and beauty to the final project.  This figure of controlled decay can ultimately enhance the overall project.

Focusing on the Big Picture and Long Lasting Results

  • A president must be able to provide leadership by understanding when an element may create an unstabilizing condition within what might be considered “the norm” in the global humanity. Can this element be stabilized, can it be integrated or must it be removed and discarded? What will be the butterfly effect if this element is isolated or destroyed? How does the global community support a president’s leadership in dealing with controlling these unstabilizing elements? A president must be able to comprehend the big picture, not an easy job for any human being.
  • Some woodworkers strive to create a legacy with every piece of work… an heirloom.  This work may end up in a museum, or it may be illustrated in many books. But a multitude of woodworkers are merely striving to make a functional work that can be used and enjoyed. It may end up eventually in a museum, but only because it withstood the test of time and showed the scars of everyday use.  A president should focus on leadership that produces long lasting results… results that withstand the test of time.
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from your friendly neighborhood political pundits (photo taken at Oasis, St Augustine Beach FL

What (Almost) Every Entomologist Wants for Christmas: A Fire Ant Pen

red fire ant
red fire ant

The red fire ant may have originally been found in the United States in the 1930’s. Since then, it has moved into several US states. This pest has invaded my property and wreaked havoc on my family more than once. My friend Sanford Porter is a researcher and an authority on red fire ants. I decided to try to make a fire ant pen for him. I asked Sanford to give me some background information on these ants before I began the fire ant pen project.

“The fire ant Solenopsis invicta is one of the world’s 100 worst invasive alien species. Fire ants are small reddish brown ants that range from about 1/8 to 1/4 inches in length. Fire ant workers build large earthen mounds which they use as solar collectors.  Workers move the brood up and down in the mound tracking warm temperatures that allow them to grow faster.  Florida pastures contain 20-50 mounds per acre and have an average of 1,500-3,000 fire ant workers per square yard.  Mature colonies can contain >250,000 workers which get very angry if someone steps on their nest.  Young children are especially susceptible to fire ants stings until they learn to recognize the mounds.  A fire ant sting typically hurts for a few minutes leaving a red mark which develops into a white pustule by the next day.  1-2% of people are allergic or sensitive to fire ants stings and they must always be alert for fire ants because they are virtually ubiquitous where ever people live in the southeastern United States.
As is the case for most exotic species, invasive fire ants were introduced without most of their natural enemies known to occur in their native South American range. As a consequence fire ant population densities in the USA are 5-10 times higher than those in South America. Currently, imported fire ants infest over 340 million acres in the USA and cost Americans an estimated 6 billion dollars annually for control and to repair damage to agriculture, households and other economic sectors. Fire ants are serious pests because they: 1) prefer human-modified habitats, 2) are aggressive stinging insects whose venom can cause allergic reactions in people, 3) have huge reproductive potential (like weeds), and 4) can negatively affect a number of native ants and other ground-dwelling animals. However, it is important to note that negative impacts on native ants are not universal and can vary with habitat and the presence of high density polygyne fire ant populations. In the last decade, S. invicta has emerged as a global pest, with new infestations established in Australia, Taiwan, mainland China, Mexico and many Caribbean Island countries.
Fire ants have many natural enemies in South America including pathogens, parasites and predators.  Phorid flies in the genus Pseudacteon are highly specific parasitoids of fire ant workers. They strongly affect fire ant foraging behavior. Maggots of these miniature flies develop in the heads of fire ant workers, decapitating their host upon pupation. Fire ant workers are keenly aware of the presence of phorid flies. A single fly usually stops or greatly inhibits the foraging efforts of hundreds of workers. Reduced foraging facilitates competition from ants that might otherwise be excluded from food sources in fire ant territories. The impacts of decapitating flies in South America is sufficient to have caused the evolution of a number of phorid-specific defense behaviors and these behaviors could only have evolved if Pseudacteon flies impact the production of sexuals. Other studies have shown that decapitating flies potentially vector pathogens and parasitize up to 5% of colony workers. Six species of decapitating flies have been established in the USA on red imported fire ants.”

fire ant decapitating fly
fire ant decapitating fly

Wikipedia reports:

“Red imported fire ants are extremely resilient, and have adapted to contend with both flooding and drought conditions. If the ants sense increased water levels in their nests, they come together and form a ball or raft that floats, with the workers on the outside and the queen inside. Once the ball hits a tree or other stationary object, the ants swarm onto it and wait for the water levels to recede. To contend with drought conditions, their nest structure includes a network of underground foraging tunnels that extends down to the water table. Also, although they do not hibernate during the winter, colonies can survive temperatures as low as 16 °F (−9 °C).”

In addition:

“The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates more than US$5 billion are spent annually on medical treatment, damage, and control in RIFA-infested areas. Further, the ants cause about US$750 million in damage to agricultural assets, including veterinary bills and livestock loss, as well as crop loss.”

All this information (are you suffering from information overload yet?) spiked my interest in this pest. Fire ants have personally produced pustules on my body.

ant bite pustule
pustule from the bite of a red fire ant

When I asked my friend if he could get me some fire ants to cast into a pen for him, he quickly produced approximately 30,000 dead fire ants for me to experiment with. Don’t ask me how he knew there were 30,000 of the little buggers. I think he knows what a typical fire ant weighs and worked it out from there. He dried half the sample and dried and de-fatted the other sample. He thought the de-fatted ants might cast better in the acrylic. These ants are not very big, each 0.08-0.2 inches in size, so the bag of ants he had given me looked a lot like a bag of dirt!

I contacted Zac Higgins at NV Woodwerks to get some advice on how I might cast these into a pen blank. Zac seemed to think that I would have the most success gluing the ants to the brass pen tubes prior to casting. Seemed like a good approach.

I roughed up the two brass tubes in a slim line pen kit using sandpaper and then painted them with black lacquer paint. Then I coated the tubes with thick CA glue and rolled them through a pile of the dried, de-fatted fire ants. I applied additional coats of thin CA glue to try to stabilize the coating of fire ants. The two coated tubes were then installed in a silicone Resin-Saver mold for this type pen blank. Alumilite Parts A and B were weighed out in equal weights (or so I thought), mixed thoroughly and poured into the mold. BUT…I had not weighed out the parts accurately and had more A than B. This resulted in the mixture turning white. I went ahead and turned the blanks on the lathe, hoping that when I got down close to the ant layer all would be well. The resulting pen is shown below.

fire ant pen #1
first fire ant pen from Slimline kit

This shows the making of the pen, from our You-tube channel:

So I decided to try another method. This time I mixed the ants with the resin mix. Painted the brass tubes black and installed the painted tubes in the mold, then poured in the ant-resin mixture. This time the mix was correct and the resin cured as a clear acrylic. I temporarily forgot that these ants float! So that is what a bunch of them did. This resulted in pustules that were sheared off during the turning as you can see in the photo of the finished pen below.

fire ant pen #2
second fire ant pen from Roadster kit

Sanford was happy with both pens, but I want to try again. I will revisit the method of gluing the ants on the tubes with a proper resin mix. More on this later…. After Christmas!!