Saturday, November 28, 2009

More on Table Saw Safety

Following Evelien's comment to my previous blog, the two of us had an off-line email conversation about what might cause saw blade kickback. I ended up contacting Micromark to see what suggestions they might have about how to prevent this.

They recommended using a featherboard to hold the wood against the blade and fence. Of course, they sell such an item. However, it's a great add-on tool for the table saw, and one which I've written about before. I'd recommend it to anyone who needs to cut a number of pieces of wood that are the same width. It's a bit of a pain to have to keep resetting it each time you rip a board, but if safety is your number issue, then it's worth the time.

The folks at Micromark also shared a link to an excellent article, and I thought I'd share that same link with each of you:

So, here's to safe and happy ripping on your miniature (or full-size) table saw.

By the way, for those of you who want a full-size, table saw that is extremely safe, I saw one demonstrated last week. It was invented by a lawyer. The number one tool for causing injuries in workshops is table saws - probably because it's one of the most common saws found in workshops. Anyway, the blade in this saw carries a slight electrical charge. As soon as human flesh comes into contact with the blade, it shorts out the saw, the blade instantly stops and snaps down below the table top. The demonstrator placed a hot-dog on top of the board he was cutting. As soon as the wiener touched the blade - BANG! And the casing of the hot-dog wasn't even cut! Now, the saw isn't cheap. Even a contractor version of this saw costs about $1700. But if fear of getting hurt on a table saw has kept you away from getting one, well, there is now a VERY safe one out there!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Table Saws Are a Valuable Tool

When I think about the number of times I use my table saw in woodworking, I realize it's the tool I use the most. In fact, in my tiny workshop, I have a table saw sitting on a table saw! The smaller one gets the lion's share of use; but occasionally, I am forced to turn to the larger contractor's table saw that takes up the largest amount of space of any tools in my workshop.

Whenever I have needed to cut crown moldings, I have always turned to my table saw to do the cuts. When I need to make a compound cut -- where the saw blade is at an angle and the miter gauge is also at an angle -- the table saw is a great tool.

For those of you who know the story about the shingles on Sara's dollhouse, I cut all 1200 of the shingles on my Dremel table saw. I also have made many of my floors by cutting regular pine, walnut or cherry wood boards into thin pieces, which I then glued together to create the floors that are now in the house. A good orbital sander helps me smooth the rough surface down to a velvety finish very quickly. For furniture making, such as the Victorian bed? Much of that was also done on the table saw.

I realized a couple years ago just how much sawdust my table saws crank out. We had a plumber come in to fix a clogged kitchen drain. The pipe comes down alongside the wall of my workshop. As he got to work in the room, the plumber said, "Wow. This room must never get used. Look at all the dust in here." I didn't bother to set him straight. Since that time, though, I've begun to be far more conscientious about using my shop vacuum to suck sawdust from the table saw! (I've also started running an air purifier just outside the door to help pull more of the finest particulate from the air.)

I have cut so much wood over the years that I totally wore out my little Dremel table saw. I went through multiple belts. Then Dremel stopped making the saw, and I had to buy my belts from a vacuum cleaner store in town. The motor finally gave up the ghost, and that's when I decided it was time to get a new saw. I've liked the Micromark saw. It's a direct drive system unlike the belt-driven blade with the Dremel. With the Dremel, if I was cutting a lot of wood, I inevitably had to stop and put the belt back on the drive after awhile, because it would slip off.

The Dremel customer service rep told me that they discontinued making the saw because they had encountered too many lawsuits. People thought of the Dremel table saw as a toy. I can tell you in no uncertain terms: neither the Dremel nor the Micromark saws were or are a toy! I treat them with the same respect as I do the larger table saw. Here are some of the rules I follow:
  • I have my saw attached to a heavy MDF board which extends several inches in every direction from the saw. I use those extended sides to always clamp the saw in a stationery position when I make a cut. (The last thing I want is for a "live" saw to start sliding away from me while I'm in the middle of a cut - YIKES!)
  • I use push sticks to move boards through and past the blade. (That's what the big, ugly piece of plywood is that's sitting on the saw in the picture above.)
  • I turn off and disconnect the saw if I plan to change the blade.
  • I always make sure that only the length of a blade tooth extends above the surface of the wood I'm cutting.
  • I stand to the side of what I'm cutting so that if there is ever any kickback, the items don't get thrown into my face.
  • I always wear safety glasses when I use the saw.
  • I roll up my sleeves so that no clothing can catch on the saw blade.
  • I have the saw plugged into a power block up on my workbench. It's always turned off when I leave the workshop. It's also up and away from little hands - should my nephews ever wander in and accidentally push the start button.
On a couple of occasions I have had a piece of wood bind up on the blade. The wood flew out of my hands and smacked the door of my workshop with a loud thud. Had I been standing in its line of trajectory, I would have had a nasty bruise or cut from the board smacking me in the face.

So, would I recommend getting a miniature table saw? If you plan to make any scratch-built pieces of furniture or dollhouses, my answer in a heartbeat would be "Absolutely!"

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Dremel Rotary Tool - A Great Addition to the Workbench

If my Dremel tool were to quit working for me tonight, I'd very likely go buy a new one tomorrow! It's just that handy a tool. It hangs from a hook in my workshop, and I frequently leave it plugged in, ready for me to change out the bit and use it for grinding or cutting.

The Dremel is a wonderful carving tool. I have many different bits for it. I use it to grind and rough out shapes on things I'm carving. Other bits work well for sanding and polishing. I also have various cutting bits I use to put tiny rounded edges on boards, or to cut delicate little indentations in a piece of wood.

When I made the clock for the Scrooge roombox, I put a bit into the Dremel that could etch glass. Then I locked the Dremel into a bench-top vice that held the tool at a 45 degree angle. Then I took the glass I wanted to etch and carefully brought the glass under the bit and gently touched it to the bit to do the etching. The tool is just too big and heavy for me to do extra fine hand movements with it, but locked down, I can do very exacting and delicate work.

The hole in the ceiling of the Scrooge room was another Dremel tool project. I attached a hand-held router attachment to it to adjust its depth of cut, then routed out the area where the plaster had "fallen" from the ceiling. I used a chisel to sharpen some of the edges of where I cut, and then pieced in tiny boards to make it look like the plaster had fallen from the lath.

I use my Dremel with its router table a lot. In fact, that's how I made the mop board in the maid's room, the bathroom, and the little girl's bedroom in Sara's dollhouse. (See photo at left.)  I had a round-over bit that gave the wood a nice curved top. Then I took a slitting saw blade and ran my boards past that blade a couple of times, allowing the blade to cut only slightly into the board. (I used purchased quarter-round to finish out the detail of the board.)

In addition to all of these uses, I have found the Dremel tool useful for doing a variety of projects around the house. It's not just for miniature work!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Dremel Tool, Jigsaw or Table Saw - Which to Get First?

I have three power tools on my workbench that I use constantly:
  • A workbench jigsaw
  • A small table saw
  • A rotary tool
I have depended on these tools so much over the years, I would have a difficult time deciding which one is my favorite. Each has its own unique value to me. If you were to ask me which tool a beginning miniaturist should purchase first for their workshop, I'd be hard-pressed to choose. So, the answer I would have to give is, "It depends on what you want to do."

If you're thinking about buying a power tool for your miniature work and can't afford to buy a LOT of tools all at once, I'd like to describe the strengths and weaknesses of these three tools in various applications. I'll do this in several blogs over the course of a few days here.

I have purchased my collection of power tools over many years, and I have used and had to replace each of the three major tools listed above at least once. Except for the rotary tool, I chose a different brand the second time around. In one case, I chose a different brand because of the tool's features. In the other case, I was forced to buy a different brand because the manufacturer no longer made the item. I'll talk more about that when I get to them.

The Jigsaw
The variable speed jigsaw is a terrific tool for making cabriole legs and for cutting fancy fretworked screens. It's good for making rough shapes that don't require precisely cut straight lines or for cutting sizeable, rounded over or irregularly shaped pieces of wood. I also use it to rough out the basic shape of an object that I plan to carve.

When I want to do really delicate fretwork, though, I don't use the jigsaw. I turn to my hand-held jeweler's saw instead. When I'm cutting a delicate piece of wood that is 1/16" or thinner, the relentless motion of the jigsaw makes cutting such fine wood very challenging. It only takes one upstroke from the table saw blade binding on the piece to rip out an entire, delicate leaf that I've just cut. You can't feel the saw blade start to bind with the jigsaw like you can with a hand saw. On the other hand, the jigsaw makes short work of cutting larger or multiple pieces such as roof brackets.

My first tabletop jigsaw used blades that had pins in the top and bottom of the blades. It was manufactured by Dremel, and it was a pretty good machine. It incorporated a sanding disk on the side of the machine, which was handy, too. The blades changed quickly. There was a lot to like.

There were other things about it that I didn't like, though. It vibrated a lot. After cutting a number of pieces of wood on that vibrating table top, I could feel the effect in my arms and hands. My fingers and wrists began to feel numb as a result of that vibration. I also didn't like the limited choices of blades. Also, the pin-fastening system of the blades required my drilling nearly a 1/8" hole in a piece of wood if I wanted to do inside fretwork cuts. On intricate fretwork, that's a sizeable hole! Also, it was a single speed machine. I couldn't slow it down for working on extremely delicate pieces.

One of the tool catalogs offered a fence for rip cutting wood with a Dremel jigsaw. The idea was that you could set the fence and "rip" boards lengthwise using the jigsaw. I purchased the fence and was very disappointed. It never worked very well for me. I have found that if I want to do a straight cut in a piece of wood - whether a cross cut or rip cut - I can do it faster with a table saw, and the resulting piece of cut wood has far fewer imperfections to the cut. 

Speaking of cutting, the jigsaw can cut your finger, but it's far less likely to do severe damage to a digit than the table saw. (To be honest, I've never cut myself on either type of saw, and hope I never do!)Rule number one with any saw is to never put your fingers anywhere close to the blade. Use a push stick instead. Rule number two: Never try to touch any moving saw blade - even if it's just idling to a stop. A co-worker nicked my leg with a chain saw one time when it was idling to a stop. It put a gash in my leg that required about six stitches. Rule three: unplug the saw when you change the blade.

When I had some money saved up, the Dremel jigsaw table was the first tool I replaced. I purchased a Sears Craftsman jigsaw table. It had a slightly larger tabletop than the Dremel. It's variable speed, and can be slowed to a gentle cutting motion for working on really tight pieces. It also had a blower on the hold down clamp that helps to blow some of the sawdust away from the cutting line.

The saw itself weighs nearly twice what the old Dremel saw weighed; vibration is now barely palpable when I run this saw. Last, and most importantly, it has a set-screw system for holding down the blades. I can use very delicate saw blades on this machine as well as more coarse ones for rough-cutting wood. And I can adjust the tension level on my blades.

When I shopped for the new saw, there were table jigsaws with built in lights to illuminate the work. I already had a combination magnifier/lamp set up on my workbench that allows me to put the light very close to the work and peer down at what I'm jigsawing through the magnifier. Whenever I'm cutting out anything that requires precision, I always use that lamp magnifier.

There were even larger and heavier jigsaws that had their own stands to hold them. (I'm sure they have even less vibration to them.) I had two limitations to consider in my selection - workshop size and tool cost. The jigsaw needed to sit on my workbench. I could not afford to give up floor space to a saw on a separate stand. Likewise, I didn't want a monster saw sitting on my workbench, taking up a large amount of space there. And with two kids approaching college age, I didn't want to fork out the extra dollars for the higher end saw.

You may have noticed in the photo that there's a piece of plywood siding on the face of my jigsaw tabletop. I didn't like the size of the hole where the blade comes through the table. I cut a much smaller hole in my wood for the blade to pass through, which allows me to cut moderately delicate pieces of wood without its breaking.

So there you have it.  A jigsaw is great for cutting out various shapes of wood and for doing some fretwork cuts. If the wood is quite delicate, the jigsaw is generally too rough a tool for cutting it. Thursday evening I'll talk about the table saw.

Monday, November 9, 2009

A Hundred Thank You's!

Today was a milestone for this blog. One hundred individuals are officially now following my blog. I am so pleased that each of you have found something about this blog that interests you. The technology we now have at our fingertips is so amazing! Here I sit in my cozy little study in Iowa communicating with people all over the globe in Spain, the Netherlands, Russia, Turkey, Canada, Argentina, Finland, Australia, France, Portugal and even Tucson, AZ!

If I've left out your country, please post a comment and add your nation to this list! I usually go to each of your sites if you have blogs, and look to see what you're posting and to see what coutries you're from. I love your energy, curiosity, humor, and creativity.  I look forward to opening my emails each day to see if there are new comments from any of you, and I enjoy scrolling down to see what you have posted on your sites. Whether I can read the language or not, your pictures usually tell a story. And there's a thread of continuity throughout them all - miniatures are a fabulous hobby!

Blessings to you all, and THANK YOU! 

Tomorrow I'll begin a series of blogs about some of my power tools.

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