Tuesday, July 28, 2015

A second chance

In December of 2014, Eliana, Renee and I moved from the cold, windy and wet Oregon coast, to the Big Island of Hawaii (the Hilo side) for Renee to take a postdoctoral position with the University of Hawaii Hilo. Although Renee had been to Hawaii in the past, this side of the island was new to her. This is my first exposure as well.

Hilo has the reputation as being a VERY wet place, actually one of the top-whatever cities worldwide in terms of annual precipitation. The numbers don't lie, this place gets phenomenal amounts of rain, the more so the further up you go in elevation. Our houshold landed outside the small town of Mountain View, about 12 miles to the south/southwest of Hilo, and at an elevation of about 1,400', the rainfall maps suggest that this place gets a deluge of somewhere around 258" of rain annually. That's about 20 FEET of rain,hahahahahaha ***insert maniacal laughter***! At least it is warm here.

In the 8 months time that we have been here, we've all learned a lot about some lesser known aspects of living a rather unconventional lifestyle. While much of this knowledge is particular to this area (like living 24/7 outside, but with no real fear of freezing), some other aspects will have broader application that might be interesting and fun, particularly to those of you out there who aspire towards a less energy intensive life.

A long time ago, I lived for two years time completely off-grid, though then it was in the wilds of northwestern Montana state, as well as being in the dark ages of the communication and alternative energy scene. This was back in 1990 about, and the internet thing was just beginning to ramp up. Online shopping was still viewed with extreme suspicion, and the only real companies out there were the already established brick and mortar guys, so prices were the same as what you'd find in a catalog. Solar was the "grail", but was still REALLY expensive, and there just weren't any cheap Chinese alternatives. I was so poor, the point was moot, but I was always dreaming.

I lived way out in the sticks on 20 acres of trees, between the small town of Thompson Falls and the even tinier town of Trout Creek, out on Blue Slide Road with the other white trash. Though I didn't have running water or electricity, while I was there a new phone company opened up and offered to run line in for free, so for part of that time I was in the ironic situation of being able to chat online with people on the other side of the world in new Zealand, yet I didn't have a flush toilet. What little power I did have came from 4 ,6-volt batteries that I charged using an ever rotating series of continually breaking generators.

Years after that adventure, I became enraptured with the idea of sailing around the world, living on a sailboat and just doing whatever it is that I normally do, which is work on stuff. They say that sail cruising is the adventure of constantly working on boats in exotic locations, and in my experience that saying holds true. The perfect life for someone like me! Sailboats are like small, self-sufficient nations, with limited contact with the greater world. ALL people living on cruising sailboats are living an alternative energy lifestyle, and boats run the range from having no power at all, to some boats having all the comforts of home.

All of this blather is to say......I've been there, done that. I'm not totally new to this stuff, I have a clue. I am a MacGuyver, and I can fix most anything. I'm not saying that I'm some alternative living "rockstar" actually, because it has been my far too many mistakes that have taught me so much. I wish that I had been smart enough to write stuff down, so that I didn't need to make the same mistakes over again.

Maybe THAT is why our move to Hawaii, how we've been living for the last 8 months, has been so especially odd. I've done so much the "wrong" way, put my family through such ridiculous levels of deprivation, it defies description. That they still talk to me is a small miracle, and testament to how amazingly wonderful Renee and Ellie are. You both are truly beyond compare, and I can't express how fortunate I feel to be with you both.

Renee is so wonderful in fact, that she is giving me a second chance. An opportunity to do this the "right" way, to design a simple, economical, and beautiful life.

We bought a place. 3 acres on a dead end road,lots of trees. Cash, no loans, ours for the family in perpetuity. Our fingers are still crossed, as we just heard that there might be some difficulty with the title, but hopefully things will work out.

Here it is.

This two-track is Napua street.


Ellie is standing at pole 7.

One of the amazing things about living on the wild side of Hawaii (as opposed to the other, poopy side, with the sun and too many people) is that you can tell people that your address is "the first driveway on the left, after pole #7", and that's OK. Ellie says, to tell you that there is a wood-spirit hiding somewhere in this picture, if you look closely.

Lots of green stuff.




Thankfully there is one area right by the road, that should be fairly easy to clear. Perfect for a parking area, maybe a little workshop.

That might be wishful thinking, as it seems like the only reason that there wouldn't be any trees right here would be because underneath all of that lovely Uluhe fern (Scientific Name: Dicranopteris linearis)......that's probably solid lava there.


It's funny, looking for property in these undeveloped areas. The photos of the places are often just walls of greenery. There's just not a good way to photograph this stuff, and because the area closest to the road gets such good sunlight, the growth is typically extra dense.


Once you bust through the green wall, the land has a little more room to breathe.

Walking in this is still VERY challenging, as the guava trees can easily form impenetrable thickets. This day, Ellie and I grabbed the tablet with built-in GPS and tried to map out the property boundaries. Not the best, but better than nothing.



Much to Ellie delight, there is a significant population of wild pigs that live in the area. They have a bad rep, for digging up yards looking for anything edible. Here is what is referred to as, "pig damaged forest".

The pigs (wild pheasants,too) are one of the principal culprits in the spread of the Guava trees, eating the fallen fruit then planting the seeds, pre-fertilized. If you have pigs in the area, you've got guava too.


So much of life is about how you deal with your perception of "undesirable aspects. People hate the pigs because they dig up their gardens, foul their lawns, wreck our carefully planned landscaping. It will be one of our challenges, to find ways to plant that will guide the pigs around and elsewhere.


Ellie is happy that there are pigs, because it is one of her greatest wishes to hunt wild pigs.....dreams of killing the largest boar, using only a spear. WTF? We aren't hunters, don't have guns or walls covered with animal heads, but as soon as Ellie learned that there was just the slightest possibility of us moving to Hawaii, she began researching hunting upportunities. Strange creature that she is, she has been a hunter since she hit the ground. Go figure.




It's not all Guava trees. There are many of the large and extremely slow growing native 'Ohi'a Lehua (Scientific Name: Metrosideros polymorphism).

Back in here, I see a lovely big tree, but I've no idea what it is.


Very interesting and distinctive bark, but I haven't found a match yet. 30' main stem, then lateral branching. At a guess, 60-70' tall, and the overstory is too thick for me to see which leaves belong to which plant.


Doesn't really matter, because the GPS says it's probably on the neighbors property anyways. I was having a REALLY hard time staying on track. The jungle is seriously thick.




There are a number of areas where the lava is fissures, creating wonderful places for trolls to hide.





Hapu'u fern (Scientific Name: Cibotium spp.)

This tree fern is well over 12' tall, but the base is obscured by the Uluhe.



By now I've been in here for over an hour. The property dimensions are very long and skinny, a so-called "spaghetti lot", 125'x 1045'. Of the 1045' depth, I've MAYBE seen 300' of it, and I doubt that anyone else has either. These trees are upwards of 400 years old, some of them, and this area has never been logged/farmed/developed in any way. The current owner has never even seen the place.



It's going to take a machete at the least, before I can see more, as I've gotten as far in as I can. Stopped dead by the thickness of the ferns, and the Uluhe are growing taller than I can see over, at least 6' tall.


I hold the camera over my head, point it in the likely direction, and take a few photos.


Now you know as much as I do about the property. Seriously, these pictures are all we have, haha. What's back there? There's still about 800' we haven't seen.



On my way back to the car.....it's a good thing I've got the GPS, as I was getting completely disoriented, absolutely turned around.


I find a couple of small pools of standing water.

Now we know why there are so many mosquitos here, haha. Ellie's psyched, hoping for bullfrogs, researching aquaculture.....she's now planning on raising Tilapia fish.


So many fun things to do!






I screwed up the first time, planned for the right things, just not at the right times. I can do better. This time....we hit the ground running.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Project Mayhem Japanese joinery challenge #4 Katasage ari



Joinery practice #4, chosen by Steven of "The twin maples"


A great joint, the "Katasage ari", taken from the FANTASTIC book "Wood joints in classical Japanese architecture".




Download a free copy here....


before it disappears. It's now out of print, and it is seriously good, having not only a great sampling of the more common joinery used, but also a little bit of where the particular joint is used and often the reason *why* a joint was chosen. This book was written by two guys, one an old school Japanese carpenter, trained nearly 100 years ago, the other an engineer and architect. This book is just great.

Thanks so much Steven, for showing me this book!

It's raining again, go figure. Have I mentioned that it rains a lot here?


Rather than begin with some nicely squared stock, this time I'm going for something different. This joint seems like one of those eminently practical ones, although not overly complex. My thought is that something like this joint might actually have some good applications in the real world, like, something that I could be using repeatedly in the very near future. I've been looking for some good, simple de-mountable joinery to use for building temporary or transportable shelter, and this seems a likely prospect.


And....I want to chop some wood, so I think that this one.....this one will be cut from the roughest stock available.



The second that the rain stops. I run to the wood pile and grab a couple of likely looking chunks.

I cut a length of Guava, and also split off a section of a rotten old Ohia that I've been messing with.



Rough out, using the hatchet....


...then plane the minimum amount of surface flat, just the area that needs to receive the mortice.




See how jagged and rough the Ohia is?

The sumisashi marks this wet, rough wood with no complaints at all. I wouldn't dare trying this using my oh-so-fancy $10 felt tip fine line drawing pen, but with this simple bamboo pen....no problem. I am such a convert! It seemed messy and kind of scary, but in reality it's just fun, and actually quite clean. The ink only seeps into the wood the barest amount, and completely disappears with 1-2 passes of the plane. In comparison, a pencil might require twice as much planing to erase a mistake in layout, most notable in softwoods. It's not for everyone, I know, but Holy Crap, I'm in love!


So here's where I screw up. This joint is so simple, I should've honoured that intent. Instead, I felt that the tenoned piece should be shouldered, to offer a more solid base and to assure that everything stays square. That, and I didn't want to plane this wood down any more than was necessary. What I should've done, was to just rough the thing to size using the axe, then call it good.

Anyway, the layout is getting to be more of an enjoyable part of the experience. I credit the ink, haha.

The purplish wood is the Ohia, one of the few native Hawaiian trees, also one of the most dense to be found anywhere. This particular piece is still wet, having been from an ancient deadfall tree, maybe 400 years old, but portions of the trunk are still usable though much of the trunk is rotten. The technical briefs that I've read about the attributes and uses of this wood say that it can be cut and machined using the same type of tooling that you would use when processing frozen lumber. Yikes!


Actually, when wet, I found that it cuts surprisingly nicely, using Sebastian's awesome saw, the big 300mm ryoba. Dry Ohia is another matter.



When I decided to cut the joint using non-square stock, I also figured that I would just kinda eyeball the angles too, as you can't mark the side face of a round log. Not well, at least. If you look to the background, you can see that I was quite liberal in my interpretation of the tenon design here. This might be considered a bastard cousin to the Katasage ari joint that I was SUPOSED to cut, haha.

And no, it's not that the color balance of my camera is off, it's that the guava that I'm using is stained a funky yellow color from bug and bacterial staining. Normally it would show a creamy sapwood with purplish brown heartwood.



For starters, I cut the mortice to fit the tenon. I ignore the area where the wedge goes, for now. I cut the joint haunched (I guess that's what it's called) with a 1/2" deep area for the haunched area, then the rest of the tenon at full depth. I cut that stuff first, but didn't bother taking pictures. The undercut area that accommodates the angled half-dovetailed part I cut by eye out of necessity, but I was able to use a "Gabe D™" bevel gauge to give some confirmation.

After drilling and cutting most of the waste from the mortice, I need to cut the wedge before I can finish. I start out with a chunk of Guava.



Plane two parallel faces until the width matches the mortice.



I saw the wedging surface at a likely looking angle. Nope, didn't measure, but then, I didn't need to.




I guestimate how deeply I want the wedge to fit into the mortice, then use that spot on the wedge itself to determine how much more material to remove. Essentially, set it where you want it, then mark it.




The wedge itself makes a handy bevel gauge.





First fit didn't require much trimming at all, but then, it was far from being a piston fit. Hammering in the wedge was a trip.

This joint is surprisingly solid!



Being who I am, I had to get the fit just the tiniest bit finer, one of the shoulders was 1/16" off. And....this is meant to be a de-mountable joint, so that's part of the deal, right?

I had to drill a hole into the wedge to get a better grip, then had to do some fairly vigorous tapping (using my new Ohia maul) to get the wedge to pop free. This wet wood is very grippy! If a person intended this joint to be de-mountable on a regular basis, you might consider a mortice in the wedge itself, its own tapered wedge, just to break it free from the body of the joint. A hole drilled through the joint, that goes through opposite the wedge would be another option, if the hole wouldn't be visible in the finished work. That way you could just poke a screwdriver through the hole, popping the wedge out with ease, a better solution than this, I think.

One other point. 

In practicing these joints for the first time, my inclination is to try to "improve" them in some way. "It would be stronger, if I just...", that sort of thing. This is a perfect example of the original being good enough. As drawn in the book's diagram, this joint is fast, easy, and strong. Cutting this guy took maybe 2 hours, but should've taken 45 minutes, at least for a beginner like me. I made the joint slightly stronger perhaps, but if ultimate strength was a concern, there are a multitude of other joints to choose from that would be better suited for this application. I constantly fight myself in this way. 



So....Awesome fun joint,and very useful too. Next time round, I will cut this guy as the simple thing that it should be. I was horribly late on this challenge, as I was finishing up the long awaited awning frames for the shed.

Simple simple stuff, but it shows a certain flair, I suppose (actually rather embarrassed, but....). Of course, as soon as I was done, the most amazing book came to my attention, one that had numerous examples of much more elegant and/or practical ways to build this particular structure.


That's for later.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Finishing up the Japanese style saw vise



It's about time to finish up this project. The rains have stopped, the rainbows are out, and I've got some saws that are in need of some sharpening. It's time to finish the vise!




I'm great at starting projects, lousy at the finishing stages.. I'm too enthusiastic for my own good.





From the previous post, the two halves of the vise have been shaped, now it's time to attach them. This being my first attempt at a Japanese style saw vise, combined with my choice to run the wood grain the "wrong" way, it would be wiser to attach the halves using some means that would let me adjust or separate them when I undoubtedly need to. So, of course I choose the permanent (but much cooler) means of attachment....riveting them.


My rivet stock will be some old bent nails that are never in short supply. For the roves, I drill the centers on another thing that is seldom in short supply, pennies.


I bore shallow recesses to get everything below the surface. When I do this next time, I will bore less deep or skip the recessed thing entirely. Although it gives a neater finish, when I inevitably need to grind these off later, access will be a bitch.



The nails are lightly galvanized, but a little phosphoric acid removes that quickly. Jasco Prep&Prime to the rescue!

The zinc galvanizing causes the acid to get all foamy, but the nails are under there. I give it 15 minutes.



The reason for removing the galvanized coating is that I want the nails in as soft a state as possible before peening, so I need to anneal the metal first. Burning off the galvanizing works great, but also causes the formation of nasty gasses that can cause brain damage/kill you/etc. I'm challenged enough as it is, so prudence prevails. I don't get to say that very often.



A propane torch, get 'em red hot, then let things cool, the slower the better.

I thought that the lava rock worked well as a fireproof surface. Talk about an appropriate material.



If you happen to find yourself moving out into the boondocks and haven't yet built your forge (everyone needs a forge, right?), a good propane torch and a decent sized piece of ceramic blanket insulation makes a sort of workable emergency, half-assed forge. The ceramic insulation is key though. I wish that I brought some. 20/20 hindsight.


You can make a small propane forge from a tin can, and using sheet rock mud/sand mix as a refractory lining. It is handy to have around for making small tools and blades, but the key word here is small. A charcoal forge is SOOO much better. Quiet, too.



Peen the nails to lock everything together.



I cut the wedge from more of than mystery ham-wood stuff that I suspect is something like Brazilian cherry.

Whatever it is, it's hard, finishes smooth as glass, and it's more than my crappy kanna blade can handle. Rather than re-sharpening every 10 minutes, I decide that it's finally time to open up my treasure chest of tools. It's time to pull out the big guns!

"Rashomon" kanna, by wholesaler company Cubs torosaburo. Our favorite luthier, Tanaka Kiyoto has a couple of these kanna and was surprised at the blade quality and toughness. He puts the steel toughness just shy of HSS and some of the "super" steels. He doesn't know how actually forged the blades, but he was impressed.




I bought this kanna from my Japanese tools pusher, Junji. It had a huge crack in the main blade and generally looked like hell. I showed some of the blade repair here, but haven't gotten around to fitting the blade into the dai....until now. It feels at least 4x more durable than the plain-Jane kanna that I have been using, yet the blade is still fairly easy to sharpen. Laminated blades are awesome!



The wood that I used for the wedge is probably too hard and slippery. The vise works wonderfully, 'cept the wedge likes to pop out at inopportune moments. I'll try roughing up the surface, see if that helps.

Next step....sharpening my old kataba saws. I plan on converting this old guy into a madonoko tooth pattern but first I will see how well it works as is, with the original modified rip tooth it has now. I've been thinking real hard about the mechanics of saw tooth design, and now is my opportunity to do a fun compare/contrast project.



Ellie is using the ugly saw, but doing great work. She's making a rabbit hutch.....more pets. Ellie, the rabbit farmer.

She did her layout using the bamboo sumisashi.



Focus and intent!



If you look closely, she's spot on the line.

That's my girl!


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Project Mayhem #3 "I don't know what it's called..." part 2

Turns out this type of tenon joint is called a " Yatoi-hozo", thanks Sebastian!


Funny too, because in a previous post where I was ranting about shachi-sen in the comment section, one of Chris Hall's posts that I referenced as a good source for information on layout went into great detail about the etymology of the name and kanji symbol. I was so enraptured by the joinery, I guess that I wasn't reading that closely.


OK, back to work.

I find it much easier to drill out as much of as possible first, then clean up using the chisels.


I've been waiting to use this chisel for a couple of years but never got around to making it pretty. The numbers on the handle are from the Japanese architecture school where this was used originally. Funny thing.... It was obvious thst they didn't use chisels very much, as the chisel had never been sharpened properly and it still had evidence of that weird thick oily crap that they put on tools to preserve them from rust. The kasura ring on the handle has seen plenty of use, though. Maybe it never needed sharpening, the steel is so good? I bought this on eBay for $25, figuring that a trade school probably knew more about good quality Japanese tools than I did. We were both right, it's a great chisel!

I cut the mortice too deep. This seems to be something that I need to work on. Maybe a mortice depth gauge will be the subject of an upcoming post. No real harm, it's just that it equates to wasted effort and it feels careless to not be as precise as possible.

The walls of the mortice are nice and vertical at least.

Though the inside doesn't look so nice. I should sharpen, but I'm still trying to rush, get finished with this thing before dark. I draw the lines inside the mortice, to define the slope of the dovetail.




Finally, an excuse to pull my "point of a sword" knife out of storage!




This is the perfect tool for shaving the inner walls of these oddly shaped mortices.



And here's where I left off for the night.

It's getting dark and starting to rain.






The next morning, I cut the stock for the rod tenon/Yatoi hozo.

That saw of Sebastian's sure cuts a straight line.








I have been working to better developed my eye. Sawing skills too, but when I make any cut, I pare or plane the cut surface by eye, until it looks good to me....THEN I check against the square.

This is another one of those stupid little things that seems to be paying large dividends. My sawing might not be perfect, but my eye accuracy is getting really good. It ends up saving lots of time really, as you don't need to use a square as often.




I place the tenon into the mortice, then mark to measure depth.




Draw lines.





I place the tenon exactly as I wish it to finish out, then mark for the shachi-sen retaining pins.




In cutting the trench for the pins, I want to taper things just a bit, to help draw the tenon tighter into the mortice.

I taper about 1.5 mm, but a little more might have been better. 2-2.5mm maybe?







Ha! Too loose!

Almost 1/8"..... Good god!



You can fix nearly everything using glue and wood shavings.

I used 4 thick shavings that I found on the ground.





Do some laundry while I wait for the glue to dry.




About 1/64" was added to the thickness. It doesn't seem like much, but it's enough.








I chose 1" width.




But because the shachi-sen are trapezoidal in shape, the stock that I need should be at least 1-1/8".





Time to assemble.



Oh yeah!



Here is where all of my "skill" practice comes to term. All surfaces are trued by chisel or plane, verified by eye, I cut to the line if I can, then before I offer the pieces up, I check again. Can I make it more perfect?


Whenever I have been dissatisfied with the outcome of nearly any project, it has usually been because I cut a corner somewhere, didn't check or verify something, or was just in a hurry. It's funny to me that I just am getting the hang of this now but, working with care and focus is SOOO much faster.


Anyways, one time, no trial fitting really. Don't get me wrong, it's not perfect, but it's decent.

There is a slight gap at the shoulder. I wonder how well these shachi-sen will draw up the joint?




All that fuss over measuring the width of the shachi-sen, and I just eyeball it, haha.


I use my cutting gauge. I should set it a touch deeper, but oh well. These are great tools to know about. They are dirt simple, make one.




As my compatriots have advised, I cut the angles for the trapezoidal shachi-sen by eye.

It's a perfect fit. Too perfect, actually, because I had intended to taper them so that they would draw the joint tighter, haha.




Shachi-sen v.2.

Mystery wood from the dump. Hard, smooth and looks like ham.


Mmmmm, ham!



This time I remember to leave the stock about 1/8" fat (I guess that I'm still thinking about ham, haha).




The stock is long enough to provide materials for both pins, mirror images of each other, which is very handy. That means that I can place a mark that divides the piece in two, then taper each end. That probably doesn't make much sense, but if you think of turning the shachi-sen stock into a long, blunt diamond shape, you would be close.


I tapered the stock enough to fit into the mortice.




Maybe a little much, as the pins sunk nearly home using only firm hand pressure.




The small hammer drove the pins in fully. Both bottomed out, so they should've been a touch wider.




Even so, the joint pulled together perfectly.





Even the ugly side of the joint. Remember when I said that I only surfaced and measured from two faces?

It worked.



Pretty darn good.





So, here we have it, the Yatoi-hozo joint, Project Mayhem #3, my first real success.

The others were adequate, but not satisfying. This one felt right.


It's solid.