The balancing act of a Graceful Flyer

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I decided to make a new flyer and bobbin for my spinning wheel. The old one worked really nicely at lower ratios and for fatter yarns. At the moment, I’m spinning really thin cotton on a takli spindle and using the wheel to ply it for loom warp. I could literally hear the arms of the flyer meet the resistance of the air as it spun, and not in a good way. It sounded like a squirrel cage fan, and I knew that I was treadling with more effort than necessary.

In addition, I modified my flyer balancing jig to make it more sensitive. The difference between a carefully balanced flyer and an eccentric one can be immediately appreciated at higher speeds. To balance the flyer, it is placed on the jig with various orientations of the arms and allowed to roll. The heavy arm will want to drop and you remove material with a file or scraper from the heavy arm until the flyer doesn’t want to roll any particular direction regardless of the orientation of the arms. You can see in the above photo how one arm is about two thirds the thickness of the other, due to the differing densities of the wood. It would seem to pay in time spent balancing to start with a flyer blank of even grained wood.

Here is the old flyer side by side for comparison.

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I smoothed and rounded everything much more. It ended up looking a lot more like the flyers found on antique flax wheels, which are about half again as fine as the one on the left. In addition I made the orifice smaller at 1/4″ and spent a good deal more time polishing the bend at the inside of the orifice to the eye.

What else can I say? Oh, it holds a bit less yarn on the bobbin than the former flyer/bobbin, but seeing as I’m spinning such fine yarn I’m hard pressed to fill a bobbin anyway. Now I can spin singles for knitting yarn on the fine flyer and ply it on the large flyer. Happy spinning!

Bobbin Winder and Boat Shuttle

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After making a loom and playing around a bit weaving with a stick shuttle I realized the potential benefits of the boat shuttle for speeding up the weaving process. And of course, who is going to load a bobbin by hand? Well, compared to a spinning wheel, a bobbin winder is a walk in the park. I gathered up a few scrap pieces of cherry, walnut, oak, even some birch ply.

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I probably made the bobbin winder a bit taller than necessary, but I wanted a good wrapped angle to allow the little tiny drive whorl to work well without a great deal of tension on the drive band. The crank wheel has no bearing and rides on a 1/4″ steel rod secured with washer and cotter pin on the other side. The axle for the bobbin mandrel is a press fit for both the drive whorl and the mandrel. Seeing as it generates some pretty good revolution per turn, I pressed in some ironwood bearings either side of the post. I’ll have to oil them, but they allow the axle to turn smoothly and freely.

I never actually got around to calculating the drive ratio, but the crank wheel has a 6″ diameter to the drive whorl’s 1/2″ diameter. Since most of the yarn that I make ends up in a skein and not on a cone, I’ll most likely be winding off from an umbrella swift.

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The boat shuttle measures about 12″ long and 1″ thick. I needed a thin shuttle because the shed on the loom I made is not terribly wide. Making an open bottomed shuttle didn’t seem like a bad idea when my maximum warp width is 20″. I looked at many designs online before sketching out a cardboard template for the top view and the side view. Before cutting the profile the slit that the yarn carries through off the bobbin was mortised, as well as the bobbin hollow. The mortise for the bobbin and spindle hollow was cut by drilling at the four corners and connecting with a scroll saw. The outside curves were cut on a band saw and cleaned up with a cabinet scraper and sandpaper. The little scrap of cherry I made this out of turned out to have a pitch pocket towards one end. In one sense it is a blemish, but does personalize the object and I actually love natural defects that don’t compromise the structure of the piece. Because this is for myself, I decided not to chuck it in the burn pile.

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The spindle was made by flattening one end of a 3/16″ steel rod and cross drilling it for a brass pin. It is secured at the other end by a rare earth magnet.

Of course, as with any yarn tool, it must be slick and smooth. I finished up by sanding out to 400 grit and applying three coats of paste wax. I can’t wait to get it loaded up and weaving!

Bathroom Cabinet with Shoji Doors

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This project came about from a practical need, storage in a bathroom above the toilet.  My personal taste in furniture is heavily influenced by Japanese design, but this was for my mother, who loves craftsman style and visible joinery. To that end it features through mortise and tenons on the legs, dovetails for the carcass, and even mortise and tenon for the shelf.  Tom Fidgen’s book “Made by Hand” was a major source of knowledge for me, especially the chapter on a bookcase with Japanese paper paneled doors.

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This was the first time I worked cherry, and boy was it nice. And I could use my Japanese saws without worrying about snapping a tooth like in oak. For the shoji style doors I maintained the traditional orientation of rail to stile, but used a bridal slip joint to keep with my theme of visible joinery. It also helped that the bridal slip is a bit faster to cut than mortising the stiles.

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The back of the cabinet is 1/4″ T&G Douglas Fir, almost entirely heartwood, and it matched the red coloration of the cherry beautifully. It was the first chance for me to try the tongue and groove blades for my small plow plane from Veritas.

The one mistake that I made was using rice glue to attach the shoji paper to the cabinet doors. It only took a couple of weeks for the paper to start steaming off from the frame. I found an excellent source for shoji paper, eshoji.com, who also carry an acrylic panel product made to look like shoji paper but impervious to moisture. The hinges for the cabinet doors are surface mounted so I have enough space behind the cabinet doors for a thin piece of acrylic.

After working some cherry I find myself wanting to make everything out of cherry. It works beautifully with hand tools and the surface quality after finish planing is almost translucent.

Window Shoji with Hanging Barn Door Hardware

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After finishing my first shoji screens I was hooked. There’s something created that is much more than just wood and paper. I came across Desmond King’s book “Shoji and Kumiko Design: The Basics” and was delighted by his more modern approach and the depth of information he gives on various jigs and the tuning of kanna. That lead to this set of hanging screens that cover an east facing window. It faces a driveway, but is also the largest expanse of windows in the house, so I needed the screens to be able to move completely out of the way for the view.  The hanging barn door hardware and oak track are a bit of a mash up in terms of style, but I think it works nicely.

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Once again I made good use of some reclaimed Douglas Fir that spent the past fifty years as decking…plenty of time to season. The wheels for the hanging hardware are maple, and the track oak to match the flooring. Would you believe I didn’t know you could buy hanging barn door hardware like this from the big box stores? Thankfully it was simple to fabricate once the design was dimensioned and down on paper. The wheels were placed directly over the center line of the depth of the panels, and they hung quite plumb. I also ran a groove along the length of the bottom of each screen that sits on a small retaining bracket either side of the window opening attached at the stool, thereby keeping your average four year old from pulling them off the track. This was my first use of tsukeko, or internal kumiko frame, and it really added an extra touch of elegance to the shoji.

Hand Scraping a Hand Plane Sole Flat

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The plane was made by a fellow named Spiers of Ayr, Scotland about a century ago and is of a style called an “infill” plane because of the Brazillian rosewood that fills the body. Its interesting to note that the body was not cast as one piece, but was joined together from three pieces that were double dovetailed together. The joints are so tight that they are all but invisible, a very beautiful feature. And consider that this plane was made by hand!

I started by refinishing the wooden bits, sanding out some of the more minor dings and dents, and then finishing with dutch oil and several coats of paste wax. It looked a lot nicer, but without a blade I couldn’t try it out. To top it off, the wood had noticeably shrunk (a common problem when wood goes from balmy Scotland to Colorado) and probably warped the sole of the plane. I bought the largest blade I could find, a massive 3/16″ thick Lie Nielsen which turned out to be too thick for the mouth of the plane.

The sole presented the greatest problem. I bought a large precision straight edge and a feeler guage set to be able to measure how far out the sole was, and it turned out to be bowed and twisted to the tune of about .006″. I’ve lapped out smaller planes with sandpaper on a granite flat, but this plane was too large, and too out of flat. I considered sending it to a machine shop for surface grinding, but the clamping force on the plane during the grinding process would have warped it, and was too expensive to boot. Besides, sending a valuable antique to a machine shop is just asking for trouble. I finally came upon hand scraping, laid out the cash for a granite surface plate large enough for this monster of a plane, and picked up a nice carbide scraper from Anderson Bros. and the diamond abrasives to sharpen it. I scraped every surface on my drill press and vice to get a feel for the process. It turns out that scraping cast iron is a joy compared to the mild steel of the jointer plane. Scraping the sole turned out to be twice as slow as cast iron for me to achieve the quality of surface finish the plane deserves. You can see in the photos the progression of the sole of the plane as it gets progressively more flat.

The granite plate is inked with prussian blue oil paint and the object to be flattened is rubbed against it. A brayer would have been nice to spread the ink, but my palm worked just as well, as long as you don’t mind a blue hand.

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When you pull them apart, the blue transfers to the metal, and you then take a pass over the inked spots with the scraper. After each pass with the scraper the sole of the plane was deburred with a fine synthetic sharpening stone.

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The scraper removes about .0001″ at a pass. Then you do it again, and again, and many more times, alternating the direction of your scraping pass perpendicular to the last. I’ve since learned that a HSS scraper blade would leave a better quality surface when scraping mild steel. The carbide was prone to galling on the cutting edge, leaving deep scratches that took many passes to remove. I also was truly careful not to slip off the edges of the mouth opening and gouge out a bunch of metal that can’t be put back.

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I probably spent about twenty-five hours scraping, and man does that paint get absolutely everywhere! The resulting pattern of scrapes is quite beautiful with the light reflecting on it, and the quality of the surface is comparable to a high quality surface grind job (the plate is flat to .0001″).

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I knew I was doing a good job when I started to have a hard time getting the plane unstuck from the plate, and having the plate lift on me, which weighs 150lb.  As you approach full flatness of the plane the amount of ink on the surface plate should be lightened considerably.

With the sole flat I removed a little metal around the mouth so that the blade would fit, and polished up the bronze lever cap. Although planes of this period did have blade adjusting mechanisms, this plane showed no screw holes where it would have been mounted. The blade would have also had a cap iron, but the blade I bought was so massive it was not necessary, and I substituted a small piece of oak under the lever cap to make the blade seat properly. To adjust the cutting depth and alignment you tap on the blade with a small hammer.

I’ve received a great deal of satisfaction from restoring this tool. It is the bedrock of accuracy in my shop. It performs beautifully, truly the best hand plane I have. Its interesting to note that I spent about the same amount of money restoring it as it would have cost to buy a brand new top of the line Lie Nielsen, but the Spiers is unquestionably the finer tool.