The Blacksmith Shop of Mt Vernon

Spending some time in Washington DC last week, my wife and I went to Mt. Vernon to visit George Washington’s estate. After we bought our tickets to the view of the house, we had some time to kill, so we walked around the grounds to see what else was around.

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On the right side of the estate near the near the back, was the blacksmith shop. It appeared to be about 15′ x 20′ in size.

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We arrived in front and saw one of the blacksmiths making a large hinge. You can see how soaked his shirt is as it was nearly 90 degrees that day. He must lose twenty pounds during the summer working in there.

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Here’s a shot of the bench with a scrap iron on the ground waiting for use.

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Here are some of the items the blacksmiths make at the estate. What’s really cool is they make axe heads and other tools.

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On the side of the shop sat a bin full of coal which stank to high heaven. The smell of burning coal is not a pleasant thing.

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I looked around the other buildings for a carpentry or cabinet shop, but found nothing. I find it odd that Washington didn’t have one on his estate somewhere. The only thing I saw was display case inside the museum with this panel raising plane.

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Updated Tool Cabinet

I built this cabinet nearly fifteen years ago and every few years I end up updating the tools that go inside it. It’s been about three years since I updated it, so I decided it was time for a change.

As you can see in the photo below, at one time I loved MicroPlane rasps. I stuck everyone I owned onto the left door. While they are nice rasps to use, I decided to delegate them to a nearby drawer instead. The Stanley short box handsaw had to go as well. I never used it, so it was pointless to have it take up so much valuable space.

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This is how the cabinet looks today. Over the years I’ve been learning a lot more about hand saws, so my collection of usable hand saws that I have restored has grown. I knew I wanted to incorporate them into the cabinet somehow which is one of the main reasons I decided to redesign the tool cabinet.

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Hanging on the top of the left door, I have a E C Atkins rip saw that I made a new handle for it out of cherry, and a short Superior panel crosscut saw. In the middle is my original Lie-Nielsen dovetail saw I bought twenty years ago. Below it is another dovetail saw and two Disston back saws, one filed to saw rip and the other filed for crosscut.

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I stuck my hammer on the right side by my Stanley No 8 jointer plane. By the hammer, I hung a couple of bevels and a Nobex square. Underneath the screwdrivers on the right door is where I hung more measuring tools. Since I’ve updated this cabinet numerous times over the years, if you look closely, you can see where the oak veneer has been torn off the plywood substrate. To conceal the damage, I stained the entire inside of the cabinet with Nutmeg Gel Stain. Thank God I didn’t make this thing out of African Mahogany as I have no qualms about damaging oak plywood.

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The left side of the cabinet is where I stock a lot of my spokeshaves and Stanley No 66 Beader. I’d like to build a little rack for all my blades for my beader, but that will be another project for another day.

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The middle of the cabinet was left untouched as there’s really no room to do any changes. Maybe the next time I update my tool cabinet, I’ll make room for all my Festool accessories. haha

 

My Shop Assistant Isn’t Very Helpful

Yesterday while changing the blade on my band saw, one of the little knobs that hold the top and bottom doors closed, fell out of my hand onto the floor.

I’ve never been a big fan of these knobs because they are so small, they slip out of my hands every time I hold them, but they do work. Just my luck when the knob hit the floor, my dog Bentley ran over to it like it was a toy and started playing with it, sticking it in and out his mouth like a ball. After I was finished changing the blade, I asked Bentley were the knob went. He just looked up at me like “what knob?” I spent a half an hour looking for that stupid knob all over my shop, underneath all my benches, tools and everywhere else in the basement. I keep my shop floor pretty clean so it shouldn’t have been too hard to find a piece of black plastic.

Without that knob, It’s hard for me to keep my top door of my band saw closed. I had to settle with some crappy little nut until the knob reappears (hopefully soon). All I know is if Bentley poops out a little black triangle in the next couple of days, I’ll know where the knob went.

Library Card Catalog Cabinets

My wife and I were browsing around an antique mall this weekend when I stumbled upon these things underneath an old trestle table. As soon as I saw them I knew I had to have them. My wife gave me a strange look wondering why in the world I would want these ugly things.

When I bought my house ten years ago, the old man who had a workshop left several library card catalog cabinets behind. I didn’t know what to do with them at first but quickly realized how handy they were. Basically, they’re a great way of storing all the miscellaneous crap you collect in your shop.

In one drawer I keep my Tormek sharpening jigs, another one I keep all my lathe accessories and so on. Plus being made out of metal, they’re incredibly strong and can hold a ton of weight. After a while, I used up all the drawers so I kept my eye out for some more file cabinets to buy. 

 

Library card catalog cabinets come in different sizes so some drawers are more useful than others for storing various tools. In my old cabinets, the drawers are long enough that I can store all the lathe chisels while the new ones I just picked up are too short for that. But the new ones are wider and deeper so I can store my pneumatic finish nails a lot easier. It definitely pays to have different sizes.

 

The true beauty of these cabinets is that no one really wants them so they’re reasonably cheap. I was able to snag all three cabinets for $15.00. I’m sure as soon as it becomes popular to spray paint these things white with pink stenciled flowers on them like people do with old suitcases, I’m sure their prices will skyrocket to $100 a pop. But for now, I’m glad I was able to pick these up dirt cheap.

Getting back in the shop

They say you should never take your life for granted and in the past few weeks I’ve learned that lesson well. It started a couple of weeks ago when I was having trouble seeing out of my left eye. It was cloudy at the bottom right of its vision field. At first, I thought it was a dirty contact but after I replaced the contact my vision didn’t improve at all. Concerned, I went to see my optometrist so she could check it out. She dilated my eye and took pictures of the inside and found nothing wrong. She told me to take some Advil for the pain and come back in a week.

A few days later, the pain increased and my vision decreased, so I went to the Cincinnati Eye Institute to have more tests done. The doctor examined my eye and conditions and told me that what I have is more likely Optical Neuritis or inflammation of the optic nerve to the brain. Nothing is wrong with the eye itself, just that the message from the eye is not reaching the brain. He told me to come back in the morning to take a vision field test to get a better diagnosis. I came back the next day, took the vision test and it confirmed that it was Optic Neuritis. The bad news was Optic Neuritis is often the initial episode a patient has who will subsequently develop Multiple Sclerosis later in life. He told me that I needed to have a MRI done to determine if there were any white-matter lesions on my brain. He also said that I need to see a Neuro-Opthalmologist in a few weeks to see if I regain any vision.

At this point my wife and I were freaking. I’m 38 and don’t go to the doctor because I rarely get sick. But the thought of developing MS during my life was not something I wanted to accept. I kept thinking about my life with MS and the limitations it would bring. Not being able to move my arm or the loss of my legs scared me to death. How was I going to work with wood? How would I ever keep my job as a sales rep having to travel around and build displays? What would eventually happen to me and how would my wife take care of me? It was a very stressful time for the both of us.

A few days later l stopped in and had my MRI done. They sat me down on the machine, strapped me in and put on a helmet on my head that made it feel like I was scuba diving. I laid inside the machine for 40 minutes as they took numerous pictures of my brain. The sound was horrible as it felt like I was in some strange space alien testing contraption. The only good part of the experience was they pumped in Sirius Satelite Radio; BB King’s Bluesville through some headphones. I listened to Albert King’s “Born on a Bad Sign” during the procedure and started to cry. I felt my life was coming apart at the seams and nothing would be the same again.

After the MRI, I waited for the doctor to call me back to inform me of the results. The doctor’s assistant called and told me that the MRI came back “abnormal” but wouldn’t clarify what that meant. My wife got on the phone and asked if the doctor would call us himself so he could clarify what the abnormalities were. A few hours later, the doctor called and said that they had found scattered white-matter lesions on my brain and with the symptom of Optic Neuritis, that it was likely that I would have the possibility of developing MS during my life. I asked if I need to be on steroids and if I did, why do I have to wait three more weeks to see the Neuro-Ophthalmologist? He said he’ll call the doctor and see if they can schedule me in sooner. The next day, the Neuro-Ophthamologist’s office called and scheduled an appointment the following morning.

So my wife and I got up and went to the doctor’s office first thing in the morning. By this time I’m devastated and not expecting any type of good news. My wife and I spent hours looking up symptoms of MS and Optic Neuritis on the internet over the past few days. The only symptom I had was vision loss, otherwise I felt fine. How could I have MS? I’ve never had any symptom of falling down, dizziness, numbness or tingling in my hands or legs my entire life.

The doctor came in the room and asked me how I was doing. He dilated my eye to get a better look at the optic nerve. He told me that my optic nerve was very inflamed and there was some hemorrhaging. He also told me that the white-matter lesions on MRI were old and not in the right spots to be causing my Optic Neuritis. Apparently white matter-lesions are common as you age and sometimes you can develop a white spot for every ten years of life. Considering I’m nearly 40 years old, that made sense. He said that what I have is Atypical Optic Neuritis (AON). This type has no association with developing MS. AON is sometimes brought on by an infection or virus. He asked me if I had a cat. I told him I did. He said sometimes people can develop cat scratch fever (even without being scratched by a cat) that can cause AON. He told me to go to the hospital and have some blood work done. There they will be able to determine why I developed AON however he cautioned, sometimes a person can develop it for no known reason. It just a fluke. I expect to get the results on Monday. If  the blood work confirms it is an infection, they will prescribe some antibiotics for me to take.

I was relieved that I wouldn’t develop MS during my life but I’m still concerned about my vision loss. When it started a couple of weeks ago, my vision kept getting worse over the course of a few days until I lost 95% of vision in my eye. Only in the last few days has the vision been getting any better, but I still have 90% vision loss. Optic Neuritis usually last 6-8 weeks in people then usually goes away. However, I have Atypical Optic Neuritis which may last just as long if not longer. Also, because I have AON, there’s a chance I may have some permanent vision loss once the swelling ceases. The doctor said that the majority of people with AON do regain all their vision but in some cases, some do not. He put me on steroids for the next month and I have to go back in a couple of weeks for a check up. Hopefully by then I’ll have the majority of my vision back.

This morning I went downstairs to my shop and started picking up some tools again. I stopped for a few weeks as I have been too afraid to work with only one good eye. I messed around drilling a new hole in my workbench for a placement of an overhead swing light. It wasn’t much, but it was the first step on the road to recovery both physically and emotionally.

I never really took my health for granted. Well maybe I did since I don’t have a primary care physician yet. But all I know is that I will never take my life for granted again. The things we do everyday just seem so mundane that we hardly ever think anything will change but when you have a health scare like I do, it wakes you up quick. Even though I’m not out of the woods yet being legally blind in one eye, I’m hopeful I’ll get better soon with good medicine and a lot of prayer.

ToolCo Router Bits

A couple of months ago there was a thread on a woodworking forum I host called The Burl www.theburlforum.com where people were talking about which router bits were the best. I made the comment that I usually buy Whiteside router bits because they were of good quality and made in the USA.

I was told by a member of The Burl that there was another USA made router bit company around that makes bits under their name as well as private labels them for other companies called ToolCo. I had never heard of them but was intrigued so I searched them on the internet and found their website at www.toolcobits.com.

After visiting their website, I was impressed with the vast amount of bits they made and was eager to try them out but had no way of knowing where to buy them as it lacks a dealer locator.

Then miraculously, I was contacted by an employee of the company who asked If I would be interested in getting some. After exchanging a few emails he sent me a package of router bits.

At first glance I could tell these bits were bad ass. The majority of router bits I have in my shop are 1/4″ shank Chinese shit bits I bought as a set at Costco a few years ago. These ToolCo bits were 1/2″ shank and looked like they could kick some serious hardwood ass.

You can definitely see the quality difference between ToolCo and the crap bits. For one thing, there’s more metal to the body and the carbide is thicker. I’m sure the carbide itself is better grade of material but I don’t know much about metallurgy to even comment on that. All I know is that when I stuck them in my router they cut like butter.

Even the spiral up cut bit is wicked looking. I’ve never seen a bit with that many tight spirals up the shank. A few weeks after I got my bits, I attended The Woodworking Show in Columbus Ohio and went to the booth where they sell a lot of router bits. I looked for their spiral up cuts to compare to the ToolCo I have. I could tell the ones they sold at The Woodworking Shows were made for homeowners while these ToolCo bits are sold for Industrial use.

Obviously I haven’t had time to try out all the bits I got but, it’s like the old saying; you don’t have to eat the entire pie to know it taste good. All I know is the next time I’m in need of a new router bit, ToolCo is where I’ll look. I just hope they update their website so I can find a local dealer who stocks them.