Saturday, December 20, 2014

First thoughts.

So, here we are, a million things are running through my head, and I've got writer's block. I thought about calling this post, "How NOT to move to Hawaii!", but after the first few days, things have begin to settle down a bit. Thank god.

It's 5 o'clock in the morning, but I've been awake for over 2 hours now. Being so close to the equator, our days are only slightly longer than our nights, and add to this the fact that we've got no electric lights....... Nights are long. I'm used to sleeping 4-5 hours at a stretch. What am I supposed to do with this wealth of restful time? Listen to the roosters crow (there are many!)? Count barking dogs (lots of them, too)? 

Despite working for over two months to get our house ready for our new tenant (the last week of which being a non-stop blur of working until my body could take no more, then literally passing out into a chair for a 2 hour nap, followed by more work..... Not recommended.), so much still remained to be finished, that we were forced to skip our scheduled flight out (and reschedule at great expense). That gave us a few more days. More work. 

I have never done anything harder, or more unpleasant. Let's just leave it at that.

Alaska Air has a VERY accommodating baggage policy, allowing us to fill a seemingly unlimited number of huge plastic bins with as close to #100 lbs as we could, then having them (the bins) miraculously appear in Hawaii, only minutes after we landed. Incredible! And for less money than nearly every other option, too. 

Renee somehow found us a pickup truck to rent, which we piled high with most of our worldly belongings, then proceeded to drive aimlessly, killing time until we could coordinate contact with our landlord and obtain directions to our new home. Our flight had landed on one side of the island, in Kona, while we needed to be on the other side, closer to Hilo, so off we went.

Wal-Mart was found.

Geckos were sighted.

And we made it. Home sweet shed. 

It's perfect.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Moving to Hawaii

OMG OMG OMG.......we are actual moving! In just another few days (like, 2 of them!), we are going to be on the big island..... Hawaii!

That we are moving to the Hilo area has been known for a while now, but what we haven't known was where we are actually going to be * living*. 

I like this place.....

..... But Renee said 👎. 

I don't see what her problem is, it kind of reminds me of the old farmhouse in "My neighbor Totoro"! 

Renee likes this place.....

...... And so do I , but it is an expensive vacation rental, not someplace that you'd actual be living in long-term. Super cute, though. The ability to live open air, like this, will be something new for me, and I'm still a bit sceptical, to say the least. I'm more used to thick insulation and woodstoves, myself.

So here it is, our new home.

Kind of a combination of the two, wouldn't you say? It helps if you use your imagination (as we are, haha!)

Looking for the ideal caretaker/tenant for a special property in Fern Acres. We have 4 acres with a long snaking driveway through 4 acres of lush Ohia forest. There are two large clearings near the back of the property, one is 75'x100' the other is 50'x50' and has a small cabin and many recently planted fruit trees. The ideal tenant would be someone who wants to build their own piece of paradise on a newly cleared and very private space. There are many rocks and trees and natural materials already available on the property as well as some building materials. The zinc corrugated roof is catchment ready and just needs a little time investment to set up. We are looking for someone who wants to live simply and enjoy gardening and building their own off-grid experience. The property is gated and locked and the cabin has excellent security (2 deadbolts and security shutters on the windows. The cabin has a skylight as well as two large (3'x3') windows and a large front door. The cabin is quaint and simple. The cabin is bare-bones and is able to be modified however you would like. The cabin has a front porch with a roof, providing shade and protection from the rain. What makes this rental experience so unique is that we encourage you to plant, grow, build, and do whatever you want. For the owners this property is a future fruit farm. The only thing we will be doing is periodically adding more fruit trees to the property. We will give you over 5,000 square feet to plant and landscape as you would like. We would love to find a long-term renter who will be willing to care for this beautiful piece of the 'aina like it is their own. The propery is a blank slate, come bring your vision to this peaceful spot. Put down a 400 dollar deposit, pay first and last months rent, sign the lease, and move in now.
If you have ever wanted to live on the land, build, farm and have your own property to do so, now you can. For only 400 a month you can have a 4 acre farm under your feet to live your Hawaiian dream. Located in Fern Acres 10 minutes from shops, 20 minutes from Hilo and 20 minutes to volcano. Lease term negotiable. Pets ok.

Yep. Our kind of place. The owners sound very nice (yes, we even talked to them on the phone. Hi Robin!).

So there you have it, you now know as much as we do, haha haha haha * insert hysterical laughter*...

We are getting a mobil hot-spot, so this blog "thing" will be continuing, but the focus will definitely be shifting a bit. Probably not as much tool fixing, but there will be more tool using. I can guarantee that there will be blacksmithing involved and, as there is no power source, everything will be hand powered. I'll try to remember to take lots of pictures.

This is going to be sooooooo fun!

You gotta love craigslist........ Surely one of the greatest means, of assisting fools with meeting their destiny.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Last is first, first is last----having a bad "kanna" day.

Sometimes they are your best friend, sometimes you want to chuck them out the window. I'm having a bad kanna day. Not really bad, just a little annoyed is all.

We are moving, literally in just a few days, and I just received my last kanna from my tool seller friend Junji (eBay seller yusui).

Unlike the other kanna that I've bought, this one is a "known" blade, and WAY better than anything that I would normally dare to purchase. So my first famous blade is also my last purchase (for the foreseeable future). First is last, get it?

"Kanzan", by Hideo Ishido Teruhide. 

Hideo Ishido passed on in 2006, I believe. I'll do my best.

It's a little hard to see in this photo, but just below the lamination line, to the left is the stamp of the Tokyo plane manufacturers co-op.

There is a nice feather pattern on the display face.

It is in pretty good condition, and lightly used. Definitely used though, so I can be comfortable putting this guy to work. Whew! I don't know what I'd do with a really nice kanna, you can only look at them so much, before you need too remember that they are just tools, haha.

Matching sub-blade.

There are stamped markings on the front side as well.

(Damn this iOS mobile app!! My apologies for the strange picture sizes.)

This kanna is very close to being ready as is, but the blade protrusion is slightly uneven. I need to shave a small amount from one side of the blade retaining groove. As I use these tools more, I am coming to the realization that "less is more", meaning that you should only do the barest minimum required to get the job accomplished. This is not to be confused with the easiest way, or the least amount of work. Perfection is a floating target at best ( and an illusion at worst), but you do the best that you can.

With my first few kanna, I adjusted the fit of the main blade to accommodate more lateral blade adjustment than was really needed. I was carving out the sides of the grooves so that there was about 2mm of gap on either side, but that's not the proper way of accommodating a blade that sits unevenly. Maybe it would help if I explained how this came about.

My first kanna had been sharpened unevenly, so that the blade edge was no longer perpendicular to the long axis. Seeing this, I thought, "Sloppy bastard, too lazy to do a good job, etc etc", then proceeded to square things up. It turns out that the dai had been cut slightly uneven, so the guy who was sharpening the blade funny was right, and I was wrong.

Now I had a kanna that was taking a bigger bite on one side, so to even things out, I needed to tap the blade over to one side. That meant deepening the grooves. Now the blade is sloppy, and I still need to tap that blade over to the right, each and every time that I use it. Forever. A better fix would've been to sharpen the blade so that it was no longer perpendicular to the long axis. Smart guy, I am.

We are so used to thinking of things as needing to be square, straight, flat, whatever, that it's easy to shoot yourself in the foot. These tools just aren't made that way. It's tough, but there is no standard/perfect/anything. You need to think. There are general rules and guidelines at least. Thank god, cause thinking isn't always my strong suit.

In my perfect world, the main blade of the kanna would slide down perfectly to within maybe 3mm of where it would start cutting. It would be perfectly centered, and would take an even thickness shaving the full width of the blade. There would be only 0.5-1 mm of clearance at each side of the blade, to accommodate any changes in humidity that might cause the blade to bind. If I *could* somehow get that perfect fit, then it would be a relatively simple matter to keep it that way. If I happened to sharpen the blade unevenly, pretty soon I would get shavings that taper to nothing on one side, so I would then refine my sharpening technique. I would be learning. It's cool!

I strive for a perfect world. It's an ideal, not a reality.

I laugh at those guys who need to have every tool ever invented, but sometimes it is nice to have some specialized help. I was sceptical of ever using a knife with a left hand bevel, but here is a good example of one, seen in use.

Right hand bevel, left hand bevel, and a 3mm chisel.

The left bevel knife really is handy for trimming flush to the underside of the groove.

Then the right bevel gets to do the other side of the groove.

The blade bed already has tape on it, so at least I don't need to feel guilty when I make the blade fit too loosely. Someone else beat me to the punch, haha.

Time for a preliminary bed check, using the straightedge light gap technique. I am going to borrow a picture from Kiyoto Tanaka (because he's a DUDE!, and the best in the world!) that serves to illustrate my ideal bed configuration.

This's perfection. There is a minimum of contact at both the front and rear of the bed, and just a sliver touching right before the blade......THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT AREA! You can also see how the hollow in the bed of the blade gradually becomes deeper, then sweeps up to contact just before the cutting edge. 


This is what I've got.

Close, but needs some tuning. The notch is where the blade protrudes, so you can see that the bed is touching behind the blade. We want the opposite. We want the light to shine behind the blade.

One more thing. When I get the sub-blade aaaaaalmost to where I want it, it overrides the main blade on one side.

You can see the sub-blade osae-gane peeking out at the left. Crap! I hate when that happens!

The osae-gane fits perfectly, so never being one to take my own advice (much less others).....

......I take a bit off the side.

Just a smidge, I swear!

A little scraping, for starters.

And finally, a first test on some stringy, mystery mahogany.

Not too bad.

 It's a start, and is certainly workable as it is, but I want to see what this baby can do. The idea of getting the thinnest shaving possible isn't about the thin shaving. It is a simple matter to get the plane to work, to cut a shaving, to smooth the wood. That is easy. To get it to work perfectly? That is what the thin shaving thing is about. Any fool can get the damn thing to cut.

I messed up the edge when the osae-gane overrode the main blade, so it's time to sharpen. 

As is with almost all of these, the bevel isn't perfectly flat, but because I'm, uh, time constrained, I just concentrate on the edge itself. It pains me, because I REALLY want to see what this blade looks like polished, and I can't quite get all of the edge right, either. It needs to be redone, but that will have to wait. The rentetsu is even and fine grained. The lamination shows perfect heat control, and has no evidence of carbon migration. Very nice welding.

I try to get the osae-gane as close to the cutting edge as possible.

I think that I can see a thread of edge down in there.....

The African khaya shavings are very glossy.

However, something just isn't quite right. The blade isn't taking a full length shaving, and only partial in width, too. The board is only a short thing, and a quick visual confirms that it's not the board's fault, so it must be the kanna. I had a day like this a few months back, and it can be maddening. Everything is there, but something is off.

When the kanna isn't working right, the first thing I always check is the condition of the edge. It seems obvious, but almost every problem is rooted in sharpening, one way or another. 80% maybe?

I just sharpened, and although the blade isn't as perfectly sharp as I would wish, it doesn't explain the lack of proper performance. If the blade is fine, then it had to be the dai.

The dai looked ok when I performed the light gap test with the straightedge, but I'm often not as thorough as I could be, so it seems likely that I have missed some spots. A quick, yet nearly foolproof test is the "sandpaper stuck to a piece of glass " test.

High spots are lighter, the lower are dark. The hollow at the center of the dai is fine, but all of the light areas along the edges represent material that needs to be removed before this kanna will work properly. 

The section of the bed behind the blade needs attention, too.

Light test.

This usually goes back and forth a few times. Scrape, check the gap, then scrape a different area, probably.

Don't forget that little bit to either side of the blade mouth.

The difference is remarkable. When the bed of the plane is configured properly, you can feel the kanna sort of squat down as the cutting edge bites in. That's when the kanna will make its distinctive *Skweeeeep* sound and pull shavings the full length of this Bubinga, no problem, but......

This mystery wood (soft maple, perhaps) has a mild curl to the figure, and gives no problems, but still....

I feel like the sub-blade/osae-gane could be set a little finer, but it doesn't want to cooperate. This kanna is getting tired...... or maybe it's just me. Best not to push too hard, at this point.

It is a gray day, so photos of glossy, reflective surfaces are in short supply.

It's glossy, trust me.

 But *still*.....something is not quite right. I can check the blade bed, I haven't done that yet. I can fiddle more with the hollowed portions of the dai, they're not quite perfect yet. And I can do a better job sharpening, too.  

It has to be......*something*!

At least I can make it pretty.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Dirty little secret

Brain spinning,

sitting here thinking,

and found myself here this morning.

The hook for me, was that one of the people mentioned doesn't use soap.

I have a secret.......

I don't use soap either.

At least not all of the time. 

One of the things that I have been very slow to learn, is how to live with cast iron cookware. All of those years spent enduring crap skillets, when what I needed was cast iron. I had tried, but something just didn't click, and I don't know what the problem was, but for some reason, they just didn't work for me.

Maybe my expectations were too high? 

Well, what I HAVE decided is that NOTHING works perfectly, in the non-stock realm. Non-stick fails after a while, and sheds little chunks of grit that get in your food. This freaks my wife out. I don't worry about that, but I also don't like crunchy stuff in my food that I didn't put in, either. The shit only works for a little while anyways, and then you need to buy another pot /pan/sheet. I'm sick of buying stuff (says the guy who has 102,000 weird Japanese tools, haha!).

My beautiful, newly sane wife, Renee Bellinger, PhD!!! bought a nice cast iron skillet a few years ago now, and it works ok. Just fine, not perfect, but what does, right? Now I like these things. I seasoned another one, using boiled linseed oil, and that worked great. Our neighbor moved, leaving me with a pile of the darn things, and I don't know what to do with all of that largesse, but anyways.

After I use the cast iron skillet, I rinse it well in the sink...... Warm it on the stove...... Rub it with vegetable oil....

.... Then stick it in the oven. Preferably with a little kanna blade for company.

It turns out that this works great for plain old cookie sheets, too. 

Finally, a non-stick cookie sheet! 

But no soap, usually.

My dirty little secret.

Monday, December 1, 2014

ChoMasaru a la Sebastian.......


I am an edge tool kind of person. My passions are sharp and polished to a beautiful haze and cleave wood as though it were an illusion. I love planes and chisels, axes, adze and knife. 

First, though, comes the saw. The saw is the primary tool, all others being secondary. I mean, think about it.... All of those other tools are only used to make up for the sawyers deficiency. We use the plane to remove the saw marks, and the chisels to pare to the line. In my deepest (darkest?) fantasies, I can wield the saw so skillfully, that no further work would be required. 

I used to detest sawing, seeing it as a necessary evil that should be completed as quickly as possible. Possibly that feeling originates with using dull tools? Japanese saws present me with a unique conundrum. When new, they are a pleasure to use but, as they get dull, they become progressively more difficult to use, wandering further from the line and grabbing, bending, then buckling. And breaking... Don't forget breaking. Japanese saws can break, oh yes.

The frustrations of a dull saw are common and universal, so much so that the saw market has shifted almost entirely to a disposable blade philosophy. When the blade gets dull, throw it away and pop in a new blade. Therein lies the conundrum...... I'm not a throw away kind of person.

The new blade is so nice, but each time that I use it, it gives me a little bit of sadness. I am thinking that  the blade will never be as sharp, the cut will never be as clean, the act will never be as much fun as it is right now. It's all downhill from here.

The disposable blades are impulse hardened, which is great, meaning that they are super hard, and stay usable for a longer period of time, but it also means that they are difficult to re-sharpen. You need a diamond grit yasuri file for that. Not to mention that I've been putting off saw sharpening for far too long and have very little experience, much less skill. 

Being who I am, need to be honest with myself. I need to use traditional (not impulse hardened) Japanese saws, and I need to learn to sharpen and maintain them. For me, this begins with research.

My Chilean friend Sebastian has been immersing himself in the Dao of the Japanese saw, and has sent me some of his early experiments in shaping a particular saw tooth design. 

There is a Japanese saw sharpener (a "metate", and actually soooo much more than just a sharpener) by the name of Nagakatsu/ChoMasaru that has been promoting a different style of saw tooth design. The ChoMasaru design supposedly cuts more smoothly, and requires less effort than more traditional tooth designs, but his work is seldom seen on this side of the world. 

Sebastian has been working on replicating this ChoMasaru design, in his ongoing effort to save every old, rusty and neglected Japanese saw that he can find. Obviously we are cast from the same mold, haha! You can read more at:

The two saws that he sent me exhibit two different style of tooth design, but both share a common philosophy. They are intended for different uses, but work in a similar fashion. Cousins, perhaps?

The big 320mm ryoba (on top) has a standard ChoMasaru tooth, and is for cutting big stuff, rougher work on thicker stock. The smaller 245mm ryoba (bottom) is a "window" style (madronoko, I believe) that is designed to cut efficiently on a bias. It is intended for finer, more detailed work.

The big 320mm is bigger than anything I've got, so for comparison I need to use a smaller 275mm ryoba. That is one big ryoba!

The cut quality (in Port Orford cedar) between the two is very similar, despite the 320mm being a much larger saw. The size of the saw generally determines the size of the saw tooth, with a smaller saw usually showing smaller and more numerous teeth. Many little teeth result in a finer cut, but that's not the case with this saw. 

Although I was surprised by the quality of the cut, what really impressed me was the ease of use. This is a big saw, with good sized teeth, but it showed no tendency to grab or skip out of the kerf. It is nearly effortless to use, you just move the handle back and forth, and guide it the direction you want to go.

It's fast, too. I need to make a handle, pronto!

I tried the saw out on some Beech and Meranti, too. The Beech is hard, while the Maranti is soft.

Both cut beautifully, particularly for a saw this big. Notice the nearly complete lack of tear-out. That's surprising.

The madronoko saw is a more typical 245mm size, perfect for most of the work that I do. The window style has large gullets to get the sawdust out of the way of the cutting teeth. In the west we associate this style of saw with very coarse, timbering saws like lumberjacks used. 

I have another 245mm ryoba, to compare it to, that is my current baby. It's a nice saw and I am liking it a lot. 

Oh my.

Very easy action, and faster than my saw.

The cut surface looks planed, it's so smooth. Really amazing for a saw of this size, and with teeth that are relatively large, too.

The only reason that the cut is less than perfect is that this old saw has a couple of good kinks in the blade, making for some slow going at times.

And more than a few dents.

Each of the shiny spots is a dent that causes the blade to drag and slow down. The spots are shiny because they are rubbing against the sides of the cut, polishing themselves smooth. This blade has seen some battles.

The cut quality is every bit as good on the beech and maranti. Again, there is very little tear-out. If not for the drag imposed by the bent blade, this saw would be extremely fast. As it is...merely very fast. I give it a 4/5, haha!

As for fineness of cut, I can only compare it to my Nakaya D-210C joinery saw, commonly used for cutting kumiko for shoji screens, and one of the thinnest blades available (0.3mm thick!). This saw its fast AND fine (and a REALLY nice saw BTW).

Look at how tiny the teeth on the Nakaya are (32 dpi, I believe), compared to the ChoMasaru diagonal cut pattern that Sebastian made.

Close! Sooooo close! If not for the bent blade and a few errant teeth, these would be a match. The ChoMasaru might even be a touch better. As it is, the ChoMasaru shows better clarity and color in this Oregon walnut. That Nakaya is a surprisingly fast saw, but the ChoMasaru is faster.

And the scary thing about all this? These are some of Sebastian's earliest versions. He's gotten better. It kinda makes you wonder.

It sure works great for trimming doors. The handle is growing on me, too.