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Posted: Friday, March 11, 2016 7:13:29 AM
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What is GIMP?

Part of my spring break was taken up by looking at ways we can download and manipulate images for the students to use on the X-Carve machine.... that is... just in case the machine is all built when I get back to school Tuesday. I'm not holding my breath. I'm just being proactive.

I'm looking into what open source software is available in place of Photoshop. I would rather have Photoshop, but a site license might be out of reach for this little school and we don't need all the "bells and whistles" for this task. We simply need a way to find and clean up an image so it is ready to be converted to an SVG (Scalable Vector Image) file for the Easel software that drives the X-Carve.

I've tried GIMP and it should work great for this purpose. This screen shot has the program set up a lot like Photoshop. It can do a surprising variety of tasks but I mostly want to clean up black and white images. I chose the soccer ball because one of the students had used that image recently, so it is representative of things they might really want to download.

My first task is to switch it to gray scale if it is a full color image. Then I usually change the brightness and contrast which oddly enough can solve most cleaning up issues. There is also the erase option for cleaning up harder to remove.... or more complex areas of the image. In some of those cases, simply inverting the colors and using the paint bucket will fix it right up. If the image is left inverted, the black background is carved away leaving the image to stand out from the surface. Using the heal tool can also work wonders on an image.

I tried using "Paint" for this and it just wasn't quite enough. GIMP should do what we need it to do... and more... but it's going to take a little time for me to get used to something new.

Want to try out GIMP? Here is the link to the 2.6 version. I understand there is a 2.8 out now, but this 2.6 version was especially put together as a massive package with all the plugins already in place. It is probably the most complete way to easily install it with as little confusion as possible.

If you decide to download this package, be ready to burn it directly to a CD during the download. In fact, that is the default download setting... I think to keep you from filling up your hard drive with the installers, but you can switch that to download right to the computer. However, burnable CD's are cheap and it's not at all hard to do it this way. This is someone that I can honestly say "was a completely new experience for me" to download it to the CD and if I could figure it out, so can you.

It does help that I have a good friend in the computer tech business who doesn't mind advising me where to get what I need... when I need it... and how to download it... and how to get the information I need to actually make it work but I still have to do the leg work and downloads by myself.

There are plenty of on-line tutorials. Every time I had a question about how to do something, I would either Google it, or You Tube it. GIMP is widely used so I could always find the answer.

My next step is to look into another open source program called Inkscape... which I understand will convert files made in GIMP to SVG files that can import into Easel for the X-Carve. Inkscape (installer) would replace needing Illustrator. What would be really cool is if Inkscape could even eliminate GIMP. I'll keep you posted on what I find out.

Reference back to original X-Carve post.

***UPDATE*** Eliminating GIMP... If you find a somewhat clean on-line image, you can skip right to Inkscape, but if you need to do a lot of background clean up on the image.... you WILL have to use GIMP or Photoshop. The Inkscape eraser is set for vector files and does not work the same as you would expect. I found that with practicing, it's easier to erase in GIMP, but the occasional speck here or there in Inkscape is easy to highlight with the nodes tool so it can be deleted.
Posted: Sunday, March 13, 2016 7:00:37 PM
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In order to communicate with the Easel software, pictures you might find on-line need to be converted into SVG (Scalable Vector Image) files. Inkscape is a free program that allows you to do this. It was an easy download with no added surprises and it replaces having to purchase something like Illustrator.

The first thing to do is open the image. The image is supposed to be sized to fit inside the work space (or paper) indicated by the rectangle. Some times the image automatically switched the media size and some times I had to manipulate it. I'm sure I will get used to this over time. Next... With the image selected, pull down the Path window and choose Trace Bitmap.

The preview window pops up. You don't have to change any settings. Click Update and it should show in the preview pane as long as you have the image selected. It took me a couple of tries before I noticed that it wasn't selected and I couldn't get the preview to show.

***UPDATE*** 8-11-16 This is in fact one of the steps I still got wrong the first time I showed it to a student. When at first it didn't show, I had to go back and click on the image first which unfortunately took a bit of figuring since it had been months ago making this post and I simply had to come back here and read what I had said before so I could remember. It doesn't help matters that I just got off a medication that gives you brain fog. I'm hoping the fog clears before too much longer. I'd hate to think I'm starting early Alzheimer's. At least the student was patient with me.

It is important at this stage to move the image over to reveal the original image below. Many times you can't tell there was even an overlay image added until you move it. It is usually of a much higher quality. If nothing is underneath, then it didn't trace. If the image is there, highlight and delete that lower/original image.... but it can be tricky. I've had it fool me a few times where the image that seemed to be below turned out to actually be the one I was suppose to save. Always check. If you can't tell by the obvious lower quality, the one you should delete will be the one that doesn't have nodes. Nodes are points that make up all paths in an Inkscape drawing making it editable. Nodes are noted at the bottom of the page when you click on the image. Nodes also allow you to make changes as needed.

With the new image highlighted, save it as an "plain" SVG file which is one of the choices (Inkscape SVG) or choose (plain SVG). If you happen to open up the choices, it becomes more confusing as that reveals several other SVG choices. I made one earlier in another SVG format and Easel wouldn't accept it. Plain svg seems to work the best for me. With a little practice, it will become second nature as you find you can get through dozens of images in very little time.

There are written instructions and also plenty of You Tube videos on the topic. This particular video is a little long winded, but very informative. It is actually the second video in the two part series. The last 20 minutes were especially informational because it shows how to open and manipulate the image both in Inkscape and Easel. Since it is easy to move forward on You Tube, you can easily view only the final 20 minutes. However, the whole video series adds a lot of insight in building the X-carve and cutting an image. I also liked seeing the different way the vacuum was set up.

I'm beginning to think there might be a TIME problem with letting students download and manipulate their own images during class. If this becomes the issue in my larger classes, the students will have to instead find their image and e-mail a link so I can do a few quick adjustments over a week end. Since there is no cost for this software, if they have computer access from home, they could also download their own copy and do the work on their own. From what I can tell though, most average students around here do not have a computer at home.

***UPDATE*** 8-11-16 Now that most of our students meet daily for 9 weeks, this might actually give us time to do some of the manipulations during class.

In the mean time I have been busy creating quick templates that the students will be able to copy, open, do some manipulation and editing, and possibly even add their own image if time permits. Keeping a shallow cut depth of say 1/16th inch or less will significantly reduce the run time. Anything of complexity or depth may cause a long wait between projects.

***UPDATE*** 3-24-16 As I'm going through this process, I am finding that searches for coloring book images are especially good for our purposes because they usually come with a fairly clean back ground... already black and white... and already have thick lines.

***UPDATE*** 8-11-16 Although in the early stages of experimenting, I've found that shallow depths significantly reduce run times. We easily can do images during a class time. Another trick to speed up that process it to turn on outline mode. It won't take the time to back cut huge areas.

While checking some select images along the way... by importing them into Easel... I noticed many of the ones with thin lines would not come out like shown... because Easel only has a few bit choices even though X-Carve sells a tapered bit set (mostly for 3-D carving I think). If the bit choice exceeds the image lines, it will simply skip those lines.

As far as I can tell, there is no way to choose a tapered bit, say smaller than 1/32". This is for working with raster images or what they consider 2 1/2-D.

I'm thinking.... that once I make the leap into actual 3-D with G-code, there may be a way around this because you should be able to get it to follow a vector line no matter what the width... at least in theory, like with the Laser Engraver.

The only way I have found so far to change an entire image to thicker or thinner lines is shown here ... but using Photoshop. Just like with the erase function, it also gives you the ability to choose only certain sections within that image and then allows you to change only those lines in that section, although I don't know why she doesn't show that in her video.

So if you find that perfect ... but thin line image... and don't mind taking a few minutes preparing it in Photoshop for import into Easel... you will be able to use that image.

So far I have not found how to do this with GIMP which means if you don't have Photoshop to make these changes, you will limit your image choices. While I have not been able to actually carve, in some ways that has been a blessing in the fact that I continue to find tricks and secrets that make the job more interesting, efficient and fun.

***8-11-16 Now that I have the machine working, I found a way around needing all thick lines. Easel allows you to enter small false bit sizes (like .01) which makes the machine detect and run through even the thin lines. The tapered bit works well for this. Wider lines require the machine to go back through until it is made to thickness, which takes a little time, but the images come out well.

For example... make curved text. Afterward, convert it to SVG where it can then be imported into Easel. In fact, there are many ways in which to warp or otherwise modify text and after practicing this, I believe this video is the easiest to understand. After following it, here is some of my lettering practice...

This video shows how to rotate individual letters as well as change the spacing between letters. That segment starts about halfway into the video and is a lot better than you might suspect after watching their beginning. There are four more videos in their series... possibly with new things I can also try. Here is the results of my practice of rotating and changing spaces. Again, I stuck with the same font and outline just for comparison purposes.

Photobucket (all the photos you see on this site are hosted from photobucket) does not recognize SVG files, but when these are viewed as SVG, they would show the clean and crisp edges of a vector image. I made these as thickened outlines because they will work better in Easel and because I believe it will better show off the machine capabilities... as well as shorten the run time. I think I'm tapping into you tube scrap booking videos and the cutting machines must use a similar open source program as X-Carve, so you are able to make your own images and save them as SVG.

I'm finding that Easel does not accept lettering made in Inkscape... so until I learn more about how to do this.... let me summarize the work around process I used to actually get these fonts into Easel.

1. Make cool lettering in Inkscape... in this case I turned off fill to make it outlines then thickened up the lines so Easel wouldn't skip any lines.
2. Zoom in on the Inkscape screen and do a print screen image.
3. Open a new screen in GIMP and paste in that screen shot.
4. Crop the image to remove any extra background.
5. Save it as a JPEG.
6. Import the JPEG back into Inkscape and turn that into an SVG file.
7. Import the SVG into Easel... in this case I imported them all and launched "Show Paths". Everything in blue will cut as shown on the right. Anything in red is the tool moving but not cutting. If red were to show up intermittently within a blue line or area, it means the bit choice might not cut (will skip over) that spot. From what I can tell, by seeing blue throughout the lettering outline, this should be ready to run.

In summary, this exercise proves that images tend to clean up their backgrounds when they are traced in vector images. That means sometimes you can skip GIMP altogether giving you a short cut. And since you can change line thicknesses on this font image, you should also be able to change line thicknesses on other images... using Inkscape. Testing proves this to be true... another shortcut.... around Photoshop. But images needing a lot of background cleanup work, and font images (like the ones shown above) still have to be made into JPEG's and imported into Inkscape to be traced and made into SVG files, still requiring a little work in GIMP and/or photoshop.[/b] That doesn't include finding a small blemish in Inkscape. That can be highlighted and deleted using the nodes tool. It's just not as convenient, so if there is a lot of background clean up to do... I still recommend using GIMP. (I added this as an afterthought as I learn more each day.)

Adam promised yesterday that the machine is going home with him this week end so he can work on it outside of school hours and that means hopefully we will have a working machine by next week.... and I can concentrate on methods of dust control for it. YEAH!

I recently found this video that should make some great lettering for X-Carve. Even though geared towards scroll saws, this site has lots of ideas for what word art can say.

Here is a site with a large selection of mostly free fonts with some other font choices for sale.

Reference back to original X-Carve post.

Forward to another post about using Inkscape.
Posted: Thursday, March 17, 2016 8:58:30 PM
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Mirror Mirror on the wall...

One of our retiring... but returning teachers (14 years my senior) was remodeling a bathroom which included replacing a large mirror. When he suggested he could give it to the wood shop, I of course jumped at the donation. He brought it in the back of his pick up truck and it was really big. I brought my glass cutter and proceeded to cut it up into 12" X 24" pieces.

I set to work to produce a prototype and template set. I found that stacking 3 pieces of 1/4" material makes a beautiful built up mirror frame and is an easy project for any age group. The center piece has a 6" square cut from the center which perfectly accepts the 1/4" thick mirror and keeps it intact in case of breakage. The white frame is for marking an overlay border if students want to make their own design.

While this stack is still in pieces, we drill a hanger hole through the back layer and a matching... but larger hole through the center layer. This creates a lip for the nail to better keep it hanging on the wall. By placing a dotted line around each layer, the kids are able to make a series of glue dots which stitches the layers together without any glue squeeze out. Spring clamps are enough to hold until it drys.

This is the heart overlay, and there are any number of other choices of which I made three examples to show students what could be done. There is a sun burst...

A cluster of hearts of various sizes...

And a crescent moon face with stars....

It has gotten a ton of interest with one girl already completing the heart, and another a profile of a bird. It's great.... at least until the mirror runs out.

I just ran across this full issue of September 2007 American Woodworker Magazine that featured my high school program.
Posted: Friday, March 18, 2016 4:40:09 PM
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Snap to it!

I don't usually come to school on Fridays, but this week is an exception. The superintendent asked me to teach our forth graders about circuits. We already worked with some of the forth graders acting as electricians on the opera, but knowing some information about circuits will be on the assessment tests starting next week, we decided one more fun review can't hurt. Our students score unusually high on the assessments and this is only one of the activities that help them do that.

Rather than continuing to build circuits with one use kits, I told the superintendent that she should consider getting one of those kits that can be taken apart and used again for hundreds of circuit variations. When she ordered these snap kits, I had never seen anything so well thought out. If you haven't ever seen something like this, everything fits together using the same types of snaps you find on clothing. It's so cool you can't help but have fun with learning.

As well thought out as this product is, I still added one thing to make it even better organized.... I attached a picture (of the unopened kit) inside the box lid so everyone could help get everything back into the appropriate places so nothing is missing the next time we use it.

Being a high school teacher, I never knew I could be such a hit.... or would really like working with forth graders this much. Perhaps it's because I haven't ever really grown up and I still act a little like I'm in forth grade. If it's not fun, learning become a chore.
Posted: Sunday, April 17, 2016 4:30:22 PM
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More fun with Inkscape

I'm having a lot of fun learning how to use open source programs. I might as well be doing something useful as I wait (it seems like forever) for Adam to get back on track and complete our X-Carve. I know it's not all his fault.... standardized testing and a couple of field trips also got in our way. I know... if I had just done the assembly myself... over a weekend... I would have possibly been using the machine for the last three months. Who takes three months to build something X-Carve says takes three hours? (See the update below... under the Easel tool paths image.)

I've decided to take it all in stride and use the time to get better acquainted with Inkscape. I'm practicing by making images and adjustments for X-Carve templates that I have planned for classes to eventually use. One way to practice is to choose an image that I'd like to work on, and simply take the time to play with it.

I've already referred to the way Inkscape can be used (as a short cut around GIMP) to make lines thicker, and also I have referred to the nodes that allow for minor adjustments. When the nodes are turned on, the handles on them can be used to turn them and make changes to an image. They can also be pulled around to different locations. Anyone who has done this before is already ahead of me, but I am attempting to play catch up as I learn to use these.

This close up shows the nodes and handles.

This is a close up of the driver side front wheel of the after traced image below. I did delete quite a bit of extra nodes because as I found out by trial and error, that really ends up making the job much easier. The first trial and error swallowed up significant amounts of extra time before I discovered this. Now I'm getting ahead of myself in the story.

A terrible image at the start.

I originally tried bringing the image straight into Inkscape, but it was not dark enough to do a bitmap tracing (see below). So I instead had to cheat and first make the image darker using photoshop to thicken and darken the lines first. If GIMP can do this, I haven't quite figured it out just yet.

This image being still in the pre-traced stage shows the lines are going to become a problem after tracing as they will become terribly zigzagged and bumpy. The fuzzy lines aren't the only problems of this low quality image. There is also some background issues which hopefully should clear up after being traced.

Thicker and darker lines that show up enough for a trace.

Once I had the image imported and traced, I could begin making thicker lines in Inkscape. Thicker lines are easily made on the now vector image by clicking on the lower left corner (Fill & Stroke) where another window will pop up and let you add more thickness to the lines. As I've already said, X-Carve will not cut thin or faint lines and will skip over them instead so this step will be essential to successfully carving the image. Oh.... and bringing the image into Inkscape cleared up the background issues.

After making the lines thicker, you can use the nodes & handles to make minor line adjustments. Actually, you can do a lot of major adjusting too, if you have the time to spare. I went through all the lines on this next image and straightened them, erased less defined areas and added back details that went missing. At first it didn't seem like I was making much of a dent in the image, but slowly it started to get better because I managed to make some discoveries that increased productivity.

I would say this image is almost complete after nearly four hours of fun playing around in Inkscape. I would not recommend spending that much time on a single image, but in this case, almost every line became a zigzag during the trace and had to be corrected. Not too many images will have these extreme issues.... including a tilted spare tire which I'm not going to try fixing just yet. I believe that one will have to be done with photoshop, only because of my inexperience with Inkscape. I admit it. I purposely chose a challenging image that not only appealed to me (motivation), but also needed a lot of extra effort to make it right.

"Time on task" is something we do in our classes. Find something that motivates kids to learn (the "carrot") something new so they are willing to invest their time and actually learn something. The alternative is the "stick". Personally, the carrot works better for me.

Using an original image that is not of the highest quality allowed me time to practice new skills in Inkscape. Doing this by trial and error, I discovered that by deleting extra nodes, I was better able to smooth out bumpy lines. This really began speeding up the process and worked on both straight and curved lines.

So if I can say this with a straight face.... Free the Nodes! Too many nodes creates bumpy lines. Less is better. Curves look better. Straights look better, and it takes less time to adjust. If something goes terribly wrong, simply undo changes. Don't be afraid to really put it through the paces. If curves change too much, before you simply undo, try adjusting it by making the handles longer. It will change the curve. You'd be surprised at how few nodes are really required!

You can also do a lot with the erase tool.

This next image doesn't just show the eraser, it also shows just how wavy the lines were before I started figuring out fast these ways to correct it. Those two simple tasks... working together... proved to be a real time saver in the end. It also shows you how inferior images can be salvaged.

I'm not sure if you can change the color of the eraser or not because I didn't mind it being bright orange. The image simply would not let me save it with the entire orange before you let go of the mouse click, so this little bit of orange as it was changing will have to do. After letting go, it quickly changes to show the erased area.

Now if I started over, I could save hours and hours of extra effort and that's something hard to discover if you don't experience it by simple trial and error on an image like this one... unless that is... someone clues you in about it before hand. In the meantime, here's what the tool paths looks like in Easel. From what I can see, it looks as if DODGE above the grill will have to either be made larger, or be removed altogether in order to carve it. Everything else looks good.

Maybe the X-Carve will be completed before summer break. There's not much time left, so I may just have to confiscate it back to finish it up myself. Then I can experiment with it all summer long.

***UPDATE*** 4-19-16 In all fairness, my earlier assessments about how long the build is taking are baseless, especially since I haven't been there during the entire experience. After talking to Adam this morning, it seems that the instructional videos for some of the later wire connections and cable runs are not very clear. Bad camera angles make it hard for him to see what's going on, or the video goes blank while the audio keeps going. It has made it difficult for him to follow. Then, the written instructions don't always match what is on the video and part numbers have been changed while old part numbers are still listed, even on-line, with later footnotes listing the changes further down the page. It kind of reminds me about the mounting screws earlier.... being found in a completely different box than they were expected to be in and only finding them after we went through the effort to buy replacements. It's made for a tense hair pulling experience for him. He did have one piece of advise for anyone building one of these. In his opinion, installing the wood base earlier rather than later makes assembly easier.

Using photoshop, I removed Dodge and tilted the spare 5 degrees. I did that by making a two copies... erasing everything but the tire on one copy, and used the rotate tool to turn it counterclockwise 5 degrees... followed by making the background transparent. Then by erasing the spare tire in the 2nd other copy, I simply copied the rotated spare tire and pasted it into the erased spare and then moved it into position.

Even though I did a few other touch ups like restoring the drivers side grill, and correcting a few other lines... it's still far from perfect. However, if you like old trucks, right click and save this image on your computer. Photobucket doesn't recognize svg, so if you would like the (svg) vector image, just e-mail and I can send it back.

The plan next year is to be at the school 4 days a week with quarter length classes... something a little more traditional... and can make a big difference in what the older students learn to do in wood shop... like being able to work on images like this or even being able to plan their own projects from scratch. Imagine... no more skipped days or shared students. Come to wood shop every day. It's been a few years since I had a more traditional schedule like that.

Reference back to original X-Carve post.

***UPDATE*** 11-19-16 I'm finding Inkscape quite useful and that's partly because I have to show each student, one at a time, how it works. That is giving me more experience with each time I find ways to do editing right in the program, skipping GIMP altogether. You might be wondering why I don't choose to show an entire class how to use this software. It's pretty simple really... we don't have a computer lab available so they can each follow along and click here or there. I have shown everyone the basics on a large screen, but most of the students prefer the one on one approach, and, only as needed, when they are ready to learn it. It's way different than the way I used to teach something like this and I love the small class sizes that make this possible. Way cool!

Skip forward to the dust containment cabinet for X-Carve.
Posted: Thursday, April 21, 2016 12:10:22 PM
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Yard Sale Bonus!

I often ride through neighborhoods on my new bike and I can come up onto yard sales at the oddest times and places. With no place to carry much, I usually ride on past if something doesn't immediately catch my eye. One time it was a $2 Rockwell sander that got me to stop. It works great!

This past Friday I saw boxes of ceramic tile so I stopped for a closer look at that. There were some impressive hand painted Mexican tiles that would be perfect for trivets, especially around mother's day... so I took a couple home to ask my wife if she thought these would make a good student project. She loved the idea, so I drove back and bought more. About $11 at .25 cents each.

I took them over to the school where everyone went nuts for the idea. I made a couple of prototypes and the Principal immediately wanted one because she has a sun theme in her kitchen. Now she has a trivet.

And now a lot of students have started one for mom....

It's a simple inside cut on the top layer of 1/4" panel. A second layer completes it unless the thickness varies, which in that case we add an additional 1/8" thick wood inside frame and glue the stack together.

I picked out several different tiles...

Now don't drop them on the way home!
Posted: Friday, April 22, 2016 12:11:41 AM
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Shop made "steady rest" helps kids turn a Harry Potter wand.

With lots of patience, only a dedicated few are able to develop their hand turning skills enough to turn long thin material. The younger kids, not so much... so I started making this "steady rest" jig yesterday.

OK.... I have to stop here and confess that my memory isn't what it used to be, so it wasn't until I started this project that I ran across examples on the Internet. That's truly when I remembered it's proper name. Prior to that, all of my pathetic thinking skills couldn't help me google it.

I've been meaning to try this for some time now and with the reaction I'm getting, I now wish I would have started this during my first year here at Franklin Phonetic School. I knew that Harry Potter wands were very popular with my high school students. Why not try them here too?

With so much going on in those early days, this crude jig was not a priority then. It's made completely from free and recycled materials and helps keep long pieces from whipping and chattering against tool pressure. The wide flat nylon skate wheels (from a student) were not really my first choice. They were however the only ones I had and they look as if they never touched a sidewalk. The thinner 2nd hand roller blades I could find locally had way too much wear on their wheels.

Now I'm glad to have fatter and flatter wheels. It turns out they actually soften the way they roll damage free and ever so silently over the woods surface while absorbing any possible vibrations. No chatter here... just smooth cutting as far as a kid can reach.

The plywood on this first attempt has metal running up both front and back edges. It's possible I don't even need the plywood. I also am wondering when the first tool nicks in the wheels will come from an inattentive moment.

I'm just so amazed at the way this jig flawlessly works every single time we have tried it. Wing nuts make roller adjustments pretty darn simple and quick. The top wheels are able to pivot from a secure corner attachment that also locks it in place, while the bottom wheel easily slides up and locks into position to fit any of the smaller diameters we may need. The entire assembly opens up wide for project removal to be sanded on an unused lathe which makes room for the next student.

I know it's far better than the noisy store bought one I had at the high school. The smaller steel bearings on that one would leave deep depressions in the wood. They also used 1/4" aluminum for the secure tie down plate. Hmmm.... is that really the correct name? Probably not, but it's enough to give you imagery and know if it was tightened even a little, the aluminum would bend.

Anyway, our new steady rest jig works so well that we are planning to remake some of the wooden parts from something more substantial or perhaps do away with the solid parts of the jig altogether. In fact I'm pretty sure I can come up with an even better layout as I play around with it.... especially now that I can actually google it. There are some really good ideas already out in cyberspace and soon our redesign will be right out there with them.

And... the students... were so excited... particularly some of the 6th period girls. I couldn't believe their reaction when I mentioned being able to make Harry Potter Wands. I know it created quite a stir because of the screeching and squeals of delight.... that not only surprised me, but also got everyone's attention.

Students are already lining up to use the jig. Victoria was the first to have her wood prepped. Too bad class was nearly over and she didn't get to do much more. So many students in the after-school classes wanted to make one too. One of the 4th grade boys actually wanted me to give him my just finished example since he will be moving out of state soon and wouldn't be able to make his own.... but will mom and dad want to transport it all the way to Michigan?

Everyone around here now seems to want a Harry Potter wand, so I'm just guessing with all this excitement... that we will need a couple of these jigs so there isn't any waiting.

Check back. When something like this is such a hit with the kids, I'm surely going to develop it into something a little more durable. I'm already thinking of superior design ideas that could greatly simplify it.

***UPDATE*** 4-24-16 With some very good news about my health Friday, I am feeling so positive about the future that I have been chomping at the bit to get going on this re-make of the Harry Potter wand (which doubles as a miniature baseball bat) steady rest. I've been thinking about it almost night and day since posting and I really wanted to simplify the jig. I spent just a couple of hours today working on some changes and I think I've almost come up with a final product.

Everything is made from recycled materials. The bolts are the ones I previously talked about finding underneath the neighborhood signs during the recent grant replacements. The contractor simply left them in the dirt after they fell.

The plywood was the first thing I wanted to get away from, and then the wheel assembly was rotated so that a simple spring could hold things in position. I found that the other jig... being for mostly small material... didn't need to be secured too tight for it to work great. I'm hoping this old brake spring will squeeze each half together tight enough that there won't be much adjusting to do.

The entire wheel assembly has been switched to the opposite side. On one video I came across, the speaker talked about how his wheels kept spinning loose, so he went to lock nuts which would be harder to adjust. While I wasn't experiencing this issue, this change should keep the wings nuts tight. If I find we don't need to adjust with wing nuts, I will switch back to the original lock nuts.

Switching the wheels over to the opposite side is also to keep tools away from the wheels as the student usually begin on the left side. When they are ready to go onto the right, the steady rest will be moved over keeping the wheels further from the cutting tools. The only way to know for sure of course is to take it to school and test it on our lathes.

Another big change is the L shaped bracket with elongated holes for adjustments to the two wheels attached to it. For most material, the plan is... it shouldn't need to be re-adjusted. It will pivot as a unit and should be pretty close for small differences in material diameters. At least that was the idea I'm hoping will work. (It turns out that it actually works on larger diameters too.)

The single wheel on the front side is set to the spindle center, so the pivot should pretty much always be in the right position. For larger material, I might have to add elongated holes, but I haven't yet decided if that will be necessary.

One of the other things I've tried to add is the ability to remove the material through the top without disassembling anything. Just in the single day of using the first jig, I noticed how many times I was stuck making all the adjustments and pulling it apart to switch projects. I could see a future of frustrations and eventually some lost pieces.

I'm hoping the spring will allow the material to simply be popped in and out whenever anyone wants to use it, that the wheels won't constantly need readjustment, and that students will be able to do much of this on their own with a little supervision of course.

4-25-16 I just couldn't wait... so even though I don't work on Mondays until next year, I took the new steady rest to the school today to test it out. I wanted to have plenty of time to fix anything if I had problems.

After I set it up, the wood popped right into it. The spring pressure is just about right for installing and removing the wood. I slightly loosening the L bracket (double wheels) so it can "float". With it just barely loose, it presses right to center under the spring's pressure which is exactly what I was hoping would happen.

I was worried it would give too much and not remain steady, but it worked perfectly. As the single wheel pushes in... everything stays secure even during rough turning. I used Victoria's project to test with and her wand diameter is smaller. I switched to a larger one and it still worked perfectly without additional adjustments. Just think... a really quick set up... even when switching between students.

A view from the opposite side... which also has become the most shared image that I have put on Pinterest.

The only piece that took much time was to make the L bracket from scratch. You can see the handmade look of rough and filed edges. The elongated holes allow readjusting the wheels for it to expand for larger stock.

I couldn't be more pleased with the final result and it shouldn't take very long to reproduce the parts for a second jig as long as I can come up with more skate wheels.

I'd like to also produce a larger steady rest jig for safely making taller goblets and since one of the students told me he has a set of wheels for me, I just might get my wish.

***4-26-16*** The steady rest has been faithfully doing it's job all day long... and with no adjusting. So far the spring loaded jig has fit every single diameter. Everyone seems to want in on this project. Even one of our staff. And one of the elementary teachers is paying to have a wand made as a birthday gift for her daughter. One of the twins will be doing that tomorrow. Here are some photos from today...

Victoria... after this sanding, she finished up by hand-filing a helix around the handle. Her maple wand is almost ready for finish.

Ross... is always happy to try new things in wood shop.

Maddie... is intently working on a wand made from walnut.

Cole... holds up a completed wand made from birch.

Springs and wings

I think that even though the self-centering spring holds firm, sometimes during installation it doesn't pull tight without a little nudge from the operator. Especially with smaller diameters. Solution... put a second spring below the first. More pressure, but not too much. That took care of it very nicely. (NOTE...The extra spring pressure does make it more difficult to slide the steady rest over to a new location. Previously the lesser tension allowed for the wheels to slide across the wood freely.)

When it comes time for any future adjustments, I wanted to make knobs to replace the wing nuts so you would no longer need two wrenches. I decided that I can accomplish some of that by turning the wing nuts around and providing a slot for them so they don't turn when you make changes from the other side of the bolt, and it works great.

After thinking about it, knobs may not have been the best idea.... simply because students probably shouldn't be making changes so easily. At this age, it's safer to leave the changes to me.

And, last but certainly not least, underneath the tie down, the bolt head needed to be embedded into the Baltic birch plywood because it had a tendency to go round and round without loosening or tightening.

Now the wing nut can easily be loosened so the steady rest can be slid over and tightened in place.
Posted: Wednesday, May 4, 2016 6:59:23 PM
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The X-Carve sound & dust containment & collection cabinet

Adam has the basic machine together and was soldering a few connections yesterday while I got a good start on the dust containment and collection cabinet for the X-Carve machine. It's several inches wider, longer and higher than the X-Carve to accommodate any variations as the machine runs through a project. Tom Franklin was actually at the school this morning and spent a lot of that time helping me gather, cut to size, and assemble the basic plywood pieces.

The top is (piano) hinged about two-thirds of the way back to allow the top to open with Plexiglas (piano) hinged as the front panel which then acts like a bi-fold door. When you lift the front, the top follows and makes the entire front and partial top move out of the way, giving plenty of access to the machine. That black strip across the top of the photo is the weather stripping inside the Plexiglas front after being opened.

A block behind that keeps the door from opening too far and keeps pressure off the Plexiglas front. My fear is the 1/8th inch Plexiglas I happen to have will be too thin and possibly crack under pressure or weight. Plexiglas can be fragile.

If I can convince the school to invest in a piece of Lexan (polycarbonate sheet), this would not be a problem. For those who don't know, Lexan looks just like Plexiglas, but you can actually bend it... hit it... use it in guards... and it does not break. It's a little more expensive, probably a little harder to get, but it really works as I've used it before. It can also be cut to size on any saw.

The box is sealed with clear silicone caulk and the access door has wide rubber weather stripping to keep it as air tight as possible. The original plan was to provide air inlets right through the front of the Plexiglas door, but I felt the Plexiglas might not hold up with big holes through it. That would also provide a place for little fingers to explore... which we don't really want to encourage.

I went home yesterday convinced that if I made the air inlet holes though the bottom, and used smooth curved PVC pipe (for better air flow) at the front of the machine, I could have fast moving air to blow away the dust as the machine is cutting. It would also cut down on noise... especially if we lined it with acoustical tile. To contain some of the expected noise would be another winning feature.

Today with the 6th graders off to the Grand Canyon, I had most of the day to experiment with the inlets and possibly finish up the box. The rear exhaust port (hidden in the photo... behind the machine) slides into place just the same as the sanding box and the chop saw box I made earlier. I knew that eventually... we would need more access to dust collectors, and these slide-in connections have been a real life saver. The dust collection hoses can be moved from machine to machine with very little effort..... no fussing with screw clamps.

The dust collector pulls a fast stream of air through the box from the inlets to the exit. I want to use that air stream to blow the dust off the machine as it runs. The pipe actually concentrates and speeds up the incoming air so it can blast away the dust on the work surface, or even while it's still air born... before it has a chance to even settle on the surface.

I haven't seen anyone try this for dust collection on the X-Carve, but in my mind it will be a better way than the inevitable wear and tear of X-Carve motors dragging a dust hose and brush along like some people have shown on you tube.

On my first attempt after installing the pipe, I piled a small about of dust on the X-Carve and closed the cover and turned on the dust collection. The dust immediately disappeared. If you turn the pipe, you can watch as it blows other dust (left from drilling the inlets) around the cabinet.

I'm thinking of adding two more inlets since the vacuum is actually strong enough to bow the 1/8th inch Plexiglas inward. I plan to provide ways to control how much air flows so I can keep it at a sufficient velocity for stirring up and blowing away the dust to the back and through the exit port. If I can shut any one of them off at will, I can control exactly where the air steam is concentrated... center.... left... or right.

Because the whole containment box happens to be turned away from the window, the inside gets quite dark when you close it up, so I will have to either provide side windows in the box, or add a light so we can see the machine in action. Windows might let out more noise, so I think I will try a light first.

Almost all of this is found/reused/recycled materials. The bottom is 3/4" plywood and the sides and top are 1/2" plywood. I had to seal several nail holes in the plywood. One powerful magnetic catch (brought from home) holds the door seals tight... that is... until the vacuum takes over. Once the vacuum starts, the machine tightly seals shut.

Adam was driving one of the vans to the grand canyon but when he returns tomorrow, I'm hoping he will be able to finish making the final connections and calibrate the machine.

I will spend a little time test running a few projects to familiarize myself with how the machine works and how long various projects take to complete. I will also listen to see if acoustical tiles might help control noise. I'll keep you posted.

It's too bad this years eighth graders will miss out on using this CNC machine. I'm not sure they care much about it right now, but I think they will after they get over graduating and worries about starting high school.... some of them for the first time in a new school. The students who return for a visit always seem to feel cheated.... "How come you didn't have that when I went here?"

***UPDATE*** 5-6-16 The next day I installed a light and two more inlets with homemade blast gates. Adam came by to tell me that... as it turns out... the soldering was for the original router motor (to turn it on and off during a program) that the company switched out to the DeWalt. He said the cable would have to be cut and power re-routed, something he is leery of doing.

I think we should go the extra mile and do that anyway. Otherwise the machine will have to be manually started and shut off after a project finishes. To me that is inconvenient. I'm not sure he was convinced. He did have me cut a hole through to the outside so he can hook up the controller and plug into power. I could easily see wiring the controller with a short female extension cord so we could still plug in the router.

(After taking a closer look when I asked him about putting in an outlet, Adam says the replacement DeWalt router draws 4 times the power that the previous stock router would and that's way too much for the controller to handle. You would think that X-carve would have thought through all these variables before making substitutions like this... but then... what can you expect when buying the cheapest CNC currently on the market. I still have high hopes for it doing something good in class.)

After that is finished, he's going to add a laptop for which I will build a platform. Here's hoping I can convince him to hook up the more convenient automatic on off controller switch. If I read up on it, maybe I'll just have to do it myself. In the mean time I need to get this machine calibrated and running so I can learn how to make it work.

Short cuts back to X-Carve related posts...



Inkscape part 1

Inkscape part 2

Skip forward to the X-Carve's maiden voyage.
Posted: Monday, May 9, 2016 12:49:26 AM
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If you want your squatty goblet you can keep your squatty goblet.

Today I had a chance to sketch and cut out a paper template for a goblet steady rest which should not only make goblets safer, but easier to extend the stem lengths. Longer stems will make more elegant looking goblets.

It of course helps to have another set of skate wheels, so I'm glad I asked my classes if anyone had any around that we could use. Several students came forward and a sixth grader gave me some this week. I'm hoping for at least one more set, but in the meantime, I traced the template onto a piece of plywood and plan to cut it Monday morning.

I modeled it to look like one I've seen on you tube, but made it to fit the school lathes. I'll post the results of Monday mornings work as well as keep adding updates as this project progresses.

Monday morning 5-9-16.... It didn't take long to cut it out. After I cut that, I cut the template on the dotted lines (to have templates for the next layer) I screwed on three 1/4" thick pieces that form the sliding grooves shown as dotted lines on the paper template. I haven't yet decided if they will be glued. Once glued, I wouldn't be able to later disassemble the jig to use the pieces as templates.

Since I hadn't brought home any of the wheels or bolts, I decided to ride up to the school on my bike. It's about 5 miles up a gentle hill the entire way so it was a good morning workout.

When I got to the school, I found Adam making a few more checks and adjustments before he had to go to his next assignment. He assured me that the calibration would be later today, so I'm real excited about the X-Carve test run being either this week or next. There's only a few days of school left.

Riding home with a pocket full of wheels and bolts was an easy downhill coast. The wheels are Kryptonics which the kids tell me are high quality. They are obviously used and a little dirty, but still round and not badly worn. I installed them label side in so they wouldn't look too busy with the all those graphics and words.

Now I can't wait to try this out on the lathe tomorrow. A few adjustments and the tie down will be set to go. The wheels slide in and out freely and are locked in place with the wing nuts. I'll set it up, put a goblet blank in place and test it out. I'm expecting it to absorb vibrations which will make it safer for the students to turn goblets, especially with longer stems.

Tuesday 5-10-16.... The steady rest can be installed onto the lathe in either direction, so to minimize finger pinch or worse, the wheels should be on the opposite side from where the work is being performed.

It runs quiet and smooth minimizing chatter and vibration. We hollow out the goblet first working from this side, so the wheels are facing the other way. Notice that this piece is nearly twice as long as previous goblets.

We weren't limited in which tools we could use, so we chose fast cutting edges like the gouge. This made hollowing out the top much quicker and minimized catches.

All things considered, I am pleased with this jigs performance... yet if our maintenance man's son is able to cut this from 1/4" plate, we can slim it down to make more room on the inside of the jig while also making it stronger.

They were also kicking around the idea of attempting to spring load it in a similar fashion as the other steady rest, although I'm not totally convinced. I believe a gouge catch would knock it out of alignment. Springs will not be able to keep things centered without the help of a tail stock.

While the wheels I was given are working, they do have just a little play and some side to side wobble to them, so I will need to eventually get some better wheels.

***UPDATE*** 5-17-16, I finally found eight "almost new" Kryptonics wheels for under $5... at the THRIFT STORE! I couldn't believe how perfect these wheels are... hardly a scratch... with the original mold seams around the wheels still completely intact. And... for that price... I simply could not pass them up.

Plus they are not wobbly either... roll smooth as silk, although I do miss the bright colors of the other wheels.

***UPDATE*** 4-14-17 Here is a great example of a 4th graders work.

Posted: Monday, May 16, 2016 3:06:09 PM
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Wrapping up another year!

It's quickly winding down with Wednesday being our last day of regular classes, so it's clean shop time and please take home those projects, unfinished or not. It seems a little earlier than past years, but it's never to soon for kids. Now I'm wondering if I have it messed up and maybe we have another few weeks. The perks of being semi-retired I guess. No one cares (especially me) if you haven't kept perfect track of the days left. Actually I rarely have worried about keeping track of summer break during my career. It always seems to come no matter what.

Here's one project you may have seen before. I found a whole bunch of parts for them in the boxes of misc. stuff from that thrift store... the one I ran across while riding my old broken down bike. Off topic, but I've gone back several times to not only thank him, but also to see what new things might have come in.... and he's never open. I suspect he was closing down and that could be why he was so generously giving me all kinds of stuff.

The moment I found them while going through one of the boxes, I remembered back to when I first started posting on this thread... someone gave me the project sheet for a version of this... which I never got around to trying. It's not that it slipped my mind, it simply wasn't a priority and I've always meant to give it a go.

Made by a sixth grader, this one still needs the ball and string, the plastic spoon (launcher) and the lace basket installed, all of which are located out of the photo.

I was sure to make a set of templates before the parts might run out, because it turned into a pretty popular project... not so much with me, but popular with the kids. There were enough parts to make quite a few complete sets before they actually had to make some parts themselves.

If it's not one thing... it's another!

Well, the X-Carve was up and working one day last week, but we didn't have enough time to actually run a quick test, so we waited until the next day. Wouldn't you know it.... there was a work table I was promised a year and a half ago, and they finally brought it to my room.

It has to replace the table the X-Carve is sitting on and Adam couldn't come make the test until 3 PM that day, so I had plenty of time to get everything switched to the new table... so I made a plywood ramp and screwed it down to the old table. I very... very.... carefully slid the machine already in the dust containment and collection box up the ramp to it's new location, and set about making a new set of blast gates to control the incoming air.

At 3 PM we tried to open Easel and couldn't seem to get the computer to recognize the machine. Hoping I wasn't the one responsible, we checked over the wires and found some breaks in the (wire) insulation. Someone had run the wire stripper blade around the wires and must have forgotten about it. It may have caused a short circuit but we aren't sure.

Adam made the repairs, but we were out of time to do much more. The machine still wasn't responding when I left Thursday afternoon. I'm hoping he found the problem and that it had nothing to do with moving the machine. I'm beginning to think that we are never going to get this thing to actually work!

Then I get a message this morning (5-17-16) that it is up and running. Hooray! I can't wait to report back on the results I'm getting out of this machine. Then 2 hours later... more trouble. The X-Carve forums blame it on software updates and windows 7. It isn't recognizing our machine even though we have gotten it to do it at least twice before. So we try another attempt to roll back to the previous version before the update. So far... nothing.
Posted: Tuesday, May 17, 2016 8:42:19 PM
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The continuing X-Carve dilemma!

Tomorrow is the last day of school. This morning I'm playing around with the X-Carve, looking at ways to make it recognize the machine... and for some unknown reason, the computer decides it can now find the machine, so I take the opportunity to throw a scrap into the machine for it's maiden voyage. Right from the beginning I can tell this particular material is not a great choice as the cut looks more ragged than it really is.

So good surface contrast, but bad material for cutting, or at the very least, we made the wrong blade choice. That white surface is holding onto the chips as the bit cuts, leaving a messy looking cut. A down spiral would have worked much better, but I'm not complaining because as I told Adam, I'd rather start out with a cheaper blade... in case it snaps off.

The good news is that the dust containment and collection system really works great. The container limits the router noise to a whisper and the dust collector makes most of the noise. The work surface stays completely clean during the operation with very little residual collecting... of which remains entirely around the outer edges and corners of the box/container. The exhaust system really does pick up the vast majority of chips and dust.

What the collector doesn't get during the operation doesn't add up to much. When you turn off the dust collector (so you can open the door) the remnants are easily dealt with by turning the collector back on (door now open) and giving it a blast from the air hose. None of that dust escapes into the room. It all goes through the filter.

Everything is looking pretty good at this point, so I attempt to switch to a better material and try a little more detailed and hopefully cleaner cut. That's when things started going weird. The machine kept double cutting the image and jumbling it up too.

When I checked the troubleshooting guide, it said to look closer at the drive belts. Sure enough, I found one had become detached. I'm finding all kinds of holes in the design of the machine and the clips that hold the drive belts is one of them. I had one last class today and it was a half day... so I turned off the machine and waited until later to tighten the belt and try again.

There were other troubleshooting suggestions too... on ways to micro adjust the Arduino controller voltage to each of the motors, so that each side travels at the same speed. Even changing overall speed and depth. So many variables and so little experience. What could we expect? That it might run perfectly on the very first try?

When I was finally ready to carve again, I turned the machine back on and as fate would have it, the computer can't find the machine... AGAIN. I never had this kind of trouble with either the Epilogue laser engraver or the Carvewright. They of course are more costly and out of reach for our school. Essentially, Franklin Phonetic would not be able to experience CNC without an inexpensive option like X-Carve.

I really have my work cut out for me as I learn how to deal with the issues we are having using an X-Carve. It's certainly not as easy as some of the on-line videos suggest.

***UPDATE*** 5-18-16... After restarting the computer, I was able to get the computer to recognize the X-Carve even if I had the X-Carve off. As it was running, I noticed some weird flexing was happening at the Z-Axis. Upon closer inspection, I found it was actually binding and had changed enough since our first run that the Z-Axis was no longer lifting and in some cases was dropping down... very deep... right through the project. I turned it off at that point.

Maintenance happened to come by so I had him take a closer look at what had happened. He has a lot of experience on commercial equipment maintenance, mostly kitchen appliance repair. He found that the top of the Z-Axis was actually sitting tilted which is something I hadn't noticed. I knew it looked loose, but not to the point that it really was... almost coming off. The screws were not secured sufficiently or had somehow worked or may have been pulled loose.

In fact, it appeared that the whole aluminum extrusion had dropped 1/4". We think it had previously slipped down, may even have been loose, and had been re-tightened without noticing that it had dropped or that the motor shaft was now pressing hard against another part. The smooth end of that shaft was starting to wear a hole at that spot.

There were also four carriage bearings that were so loose they were almost falling off. Every carriage had at least one loose bearing. The adjustments are made with nuts that have off centered holes through them. When you get the pulley in the right position, they get tightened, but in the wrong direction, it can make them too tight or too loose.

Two belts had also worked loose and the pulleys wouldn't run the carriages back and forth. It would simply grind the motor pulley teeth against the belt ridges which sounds like a loud clicking or grinding. The metal clips that hold the belt had each been threaded differently in several locations. One way held and one slipped, so we made them all alike.

Now the machine will need to be re-calibrated since it was calibrated before these issues were discovered. Tuesday morning we will do a re-calibration and then test run to see if we are getting the cut we should.

I'll keep you posted.

***UPDATE*** 5-26-16 To anyone who is following this thread closely, I apologize for not getting this posted sooner. After consulting with our group (me, maintenance and Adam) and finding out that the instructions say to expect some belt loosening (they were somewhat loosened again Tuesday) we decided to try one of their X-Carve tips (at the bottom of the instructions), to use a zip tie to hold the ends secure. Without any on hand, that one will have to wait.

As for the 1/4" downward slippage of the Z-Axis, and the loose carriage bearings, that was simply because Adam has no experience building stuff like this and he didn't tighten it enough. I however think that maintenance over tightened the bearing pressure on the Y-Axis carriage... and that could be some of the issue. It was not nearly as easy to roll it back and forth as the X-Axis. We loosened them up and he will go back later to re-tighten them just enough to take up the slack but not so much as to alter the movement.

These should be fairly easy fixes. Then the re-calibration will take some time because it could involve turning some voltage adjustments, then testing... and with a bit of trial and error, it can be made right.... hopefully.

6-23-16... This is how it is running now.

I went over to the school and when I was running the machine, it looked pretty good until some of the nuts and lower bearings started falling off. I'm going to suggest that we may want to try some Loctite. However, I have found that the images... if saved as a plain svg... seem to be working, so instead of saving them as an Inkscape svg, save them as a plain avg.

***UPDATE*** 8-11-16 The Locktite worked and the machine was still having concerns being detected by easel. Adam says that on the website he read that the Arduino #8 software was more than likely the issue. He thought we might have luck going back to #6. I went to the Arduino website and noticed that #10 had just been released, so I downloaded both #6 and #10 and let Adam do the rest.

It requires removing the old software before installing the update. Anything to make it harder! I guess that is partly based on open source software. Adam chose #10 and it's been working ever since. Since it has been such a struggle to get to this stage, I feel a little less excited, but hopefully it will get better as we run more projects.

I will post a photo later, but I made one size (6" x 6") quick setup jig... so far and you simply snap the project in and out of the jig. No special tie downs, and it sits above the table. This keeps the base from being accidentally cut into and will allow space for pierce through cuts.

I probably should have started out with a larger quick jig and then gone smaller. I want the smaller jigs to fit into the larger ones and to make several sizes so we can quickly set up a variety of projects.

Skip to the next post about X-Carve.
Posted: Monday, June 6, 2016 11:14:53 AM
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Squirrels, Beetles and Bees, Oh my!

For almost a decade, we have had a terrible bark beetle infestation in our Ponderosa Pine stands in the mountains all around here which led to huge amounts of free firewood being offered by residents in the area as they cut down the dead and dying trees.

If you ever see blue stain in your lumber, it is caused as the bark beetles carve out their galleries. They introduce blue-stain fungi which continues to grow in the wood while also interfering with the tree's water transport system. While a few beetles here and there might not be too big of a deal, too many beetles overtaking a tree will produce overwhelming amounts of this fungi that eventually kills the tree.

Some of my high school students who lived in that area north of here alerted me to free firewood, so I began hauling it home several years ago because that is my main winter heat source. I've also turned a few blue streaked pieces on the lathe. The beetles leave very striking blue patterns throughout the wood.

I know what your thinking.... PINE? How can you want to even think about burning pine? Well the interesting thing about the bark beetle is that it only becomes a real problem during extended drought. The drought stops sap production and sap is how the tree kills invaders... by drowning them in sap.

This may be hard to believe, but from my experience with this pine nearly void of sap, it burns much cleaner and doesn't build up any more creosote than a hard wood might but that is a whole different topic.

Dead trees also support other forest life like owls, woodpeckers, and the carpenter bee larvae that the woodpeckers love to munch on. When you don't know this, you can unknowingly import those undeveloped bees into your yard. I may or may not have brought this upon myself, because any fire wood can have them and I'm not the only wood pile around. They could have come in anytime on hardwood or softwood.

They look like a very large beetle as they fly around. Up close they look a little like a huge big-butt fly. See a few... here... a few there... not much to worry about... or so I thought.

Fast forward five years. The weather turns warm (March/April) and I can clearly hear audible buzzing of bees, and I fear looking around the corner it's so loud... but I can't seem to see any bees or find a hive anywhere. Then in May I notice these 3/8" holes with these beetle looking creatures flying around them. When I get too near, they dive bomb me. I go into the house and told me wife, look up black wood beetles or black wood bees and see what you come up with.

That begins a journey of learning a topic I never expected. Carpenter bees are not anything like a typical bee. There are dozens of species and none of them make honey. They rarely sting (only the female has a stinger and only does when provoked), but they do like to scare you by being curious or when defending their nesting territory. They don't cluster up in hives, but pair off into separate nests/dens.

They need old wood to build their nest. They usually don't like painted surfaces, but some accounts clearly show they will burrow into any kind of wood, painted or not. In some cases this can put nearby houses in jeopardy.

I've learned I can stand in their midst without fear and even though bees in general are in danger, Carpenter bees are not. Since there is no farmland close by, I've reasoned that I at least need to get the numbers under control lest the neighbors complain.

One time a neighbor went ballistic simply seeing a squirrel run through my yard, demanding I set out poison. Before that time, (and I've been in this house 30 years) I never had any pests and I also never had the city calling me wanting to come inspect my property. When they showed up, they were pleasantly surprised that it was a well kept place because the neighbor told them it was rats. When they found out it was squirrels, they agreed to let the babies get old enough before I had to borrow a city trap and move them far far away. I ended up moving six that year.

If a different neighbor would quit putting out food, the varmints wouldn't even come around here. This neighbor insists there is nothing wrong with feeding wildlife. Last summer I trapped and moved 4 skunks and I just trapped 4 more squirrels already this summer.

I found this on-line image that makes me think of how funny these squirrels can be.

Here's hoping that the long drive to the mountain keeps them from coming back.

We live in flat grassy land... hardly a place where you would expect to have issues with skunks and squirrels. Roadrunners, doves, meadowlarks, hummingbirds, sparrows, bluejays, robins, Quail, lizards,.... and even a king snake here or there, yes, but they are mostly cool to have around. I might not consider a rattlesnake too cool, but most of the other wildlife are terrific.

Road runner

Back to the bees. Carpenter bees breed about 6 - 10 young at a time, and that's how they quickly gain in numbers. There must have been hundreds by the time I notice the noise. I simply can't repeat what happened with the squirrels. No sense taking a chance getting a neighbor upset and having the city on my back again.

I learned real quick that Carpenter bees slow down to hover only when they are curious or trying to land and enter their den. Sometimes the old timers will stop to sit on a fence or branch. (Hey, I'm beginning to know that feeling myself.) That sadly is the easiest time to sneak up on them. Hit them with a tennis racket... or a little hair spray or even some spray glue and down they go. Some you tube videos swear by WD-40.

I've been know to take down more than 20 in 30 minutes. They are most active around the nests at dawn and dusk. I prefer not to use pesticides, but some are recommended if they do get into your eaves and rafters. Try that in a stack of firewood.

Females stay in the nest most of the time. When they do go in and out, they fly much more direct and rarely hover. When it turns cold again, they are inactive and you can easily cut/split the logs for burning.

By watching where they land, you can discover which logs to set aside. If there aren't too many, I bag them. The first time there were so many bees that I covered dozens of affected logs with black plastic and anchored it with rocks. That fall it hailed and broke up the plastic. There must have been hundreds of dried up bees under that plastic.

I normally wouldn't be so heartless about a creature, but they really do become quite the pests if you leave them alone. So far, there has not been any evidence that have gone after anything other than the firewood. My shed it right next to where they usually are. So far so good.

If you keep at it, it's not hard to keep the numbers to a minimum, but don't ever think you've gotten to the last one, because the following year, there they are again and the numbers grow fast. You won't see a single bee for a month, but then.... and I'm pretty sure some males from other colonies are coming around looking for females in what has come to be seen as my bee brothel... because... there they are again. The following year there are several dozen more.

From what I can tell after dealing with this for over 5 years, this particular species lives at least two years, the young emerging in August/September and hold up during winter. Then in March/April, as adults they begin to mate.

I've only witnessed that once when two of them seemed to be flying around fighting together. I wouldn't have recognized that as mating except I'd recently read about it. I remember thinking at the time that I've never seen that behavior. If the female lands, the mating can't continue until the male picks her up and flies them both and that is what appears as fighting.

The female is the one left to do all the work... tunneling into the wood, leaving a bit of yellow excrement and saw dust behind (an indication of an active hole). They lay eggs and pack six to ten brood cells within a tunnel. By August/September, a new batch emerges and repeats the cycle. They prefer to return to the same piece of wood if they can.

Like I've already said, I don't like harming these critters, but when they begin to take over, some population control is in order. Check back in five years because I'd be willing to bet that they will still be around as this has been going on for many years. However, 20 is easier to tolerate than 2000.

***UPDATE*** 7-12-16... I didn't know it at the time of this post, but I had knocked down this years brood to maybe one or two singles left and I even eventually got those a few days later. Now the wood pile is quiet except for an occasional lizard. No more squirrels and no more bees... at least for the moment. Not even a fly by. I'm not holding my breath because the neighbor still entices wildlife to her yard and the bees schedule calls for a late summer emergence of the young... that is, if I haven't found and sacked all the nests in the logs of this wood pile. That doesn't mean I haven't seen a few around the neighborhood, because I have. There are plenty of other wood piles around and there is always a few bees looking to relocate and start a new colony.

Bee experts agree that everyone should help our "good" native bee populations by having inviting flowers in their yards to attract them. We have plenty of good bees jumping from cactus flower to cactus flower and around the neighborhood I see those bees jumping from weed flower to weed flower.

Speaking of beetles, I found a couple of these roaming around in the yard. They are Palo Verde beetles and are a couple of inches long. I'm guessing they blew in with the rain. When in the grub state, they can eat away at roots under Palo Verde trees and possibly the trees in your yard. Great! One more worry.

***UPDATE*** It's about the middle of August and the bee re-emergence should be under way, so I have been watching closely every morning. I see a few bees once and a while, but I think they are from other colonies and simply looking for females. A little chain saw dust is enough to slow them down for a closer look. The chain saw dust looks very much like their nest building tailings. I've found a couple of bees that were in the process of beginning a hole. One was far enough in that I separated and bagged the log. This will be the first year I've continued watching after school starts. I'm determined to win!

As for other critters, I haven't seen a squirrel in a long time and I've only noticed one skunk trying to dig under the shed. Chicken wire is a wonderful deterrent. I'm sure I'll never actually be rid of all these pests.

Posted: Wednesday, June 29, 2016 12:22:52 PM
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The American Chestnut Foundation

Restoring the American chestnut tree to our eastern woodlands to benefit our environment, our wildlife and our society.

At the library this week I was able to catch up on some reading and came across this Charity of the Week posting in "The Week" magazine June 24,2016 from the American Chestnut Foundation ...

"The Hardy and productive American chestnut tree, an essential source of food for wildlife ranging from birds to bears, flourished on more than 200 million acres from Maine to Florida until blight in the early 20th century decimated it's population. The American Chestnut Foundation, founded in 1983 by concerned plant scientists, works to restore the species across the country and create pubic awareness about the indispensable role of chestnuts. The organization's Meadowview, Va., research farm , where nearly 50,000 trees are planted, conducts back crossbreeding experiments to produce new, blight-resistant hybrids, and more than 5000 volunteer members across 16 state chapters work to promote the chestnut through education programs in schools and nature centers and by planting thousands of chestnuts around the country.

Each charity we feature has earned a four-star overall rating from the charity navigator, which rates not-for-profit organizations on the strength of their finances, their governance practices, and the transparency of their operations. Four stars is the groups highest rating."

From what I can tell, it takes a donation in order to get a few blight resistant seeds to plant and since I live a bit outside of the climate range, they probably wouldn't survive. However, I still like finding this information because of the Troubled Time for Trees presentation I assembled several years ago.

Pre-blight chestnut tree

My presentation may need a little updating to include their work to make blight resistant strains. Unfortunately the PowerPoint sharing site suspended my account for some reason related to spam so I deleted all the links I previously had listed here. It may have wondered about all the sudden traffic that this site could generate.

7-1-16... With the sharing site back up and running, I'm re-posting the links. These were made to help my students pass their state exit exam and reflected our state standards at the time. Also, keep in mind that the sharing site has a lot of issues with how the slides show. There are no animations which are what usually makes viewing more fun, and the fonts on some slides change and jumble up. I'm not sure what that's all about, because places where I think it might occur, it doesn't, yet other places it does. Play around with their viewer because it can be made full view, and one of the views even makes it appear like turning the pages of a book and I thought that added some interest to the presentation since the animations don't work. Another thing that doesn't work is the links because without the rest of the curriculum folders, there is not a path for the computer to follow.

General Safety
The Fire Extinguisher
Mechanical Fasteners
Furniture Styles
Components of Design
Working Drawings
Segmenting Circles
Intro to Foundations
History of Framing

With this year being the first time for a daily 9 week wood shop class, there may be time to actually start using some of these slide presentations again which were mostly constructed to help fulfill our state cabinetmaking and construction standards.

Forget the obvious sharing site issues, if you are interested in these, let me know. Smaller ones (under 20 MB) can be sent through e-mail and if I cut them into two parts, even the larger ones can be e-mailed.... but it will take extra time to prepare them. I have dozens of these presentations that aren't being used as much now that I'm retired from high school (but now teaching middle school).
Posted: Tuesday, July 26, 2016 3:51:49 PM
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Another article about our wood shop!

Nancy Fister, the AWFS Education Director recently e-mailed out a copy of an article "Meet your Next-Gen Employees: Middle-Schoolers!" We are specifically mentioned in part two which is found here.

Teacher in Arizona Comes Out of Retirement to Rebuild Wood Program

In Arizona, Tom Bockman’s high school wood program closed (prematurely? read on), sending him into early retirement. Not that comfortable with too much leisure, Tom stepped up to revamp a very small but determined wood program at Franklin Phonetic School. The lack of proper facility and equipment almost had him running for the door, were it not for the kids. He endured and remade the whole experience using scraps he could find (dumpster diving at the cabinet shop) and some limited grant funds. He started at 2 days a week, is now at 3, and they possibly want him for 4 next year. He’s been garnering a lot of publicity, in fact, his old district contacted him and wants him to come back! Tom has managed to fix up a new bigger space and is accomplishing amazing things with kids as young as 4th grade. Next on his wish list? A Piranha Fx Laser and 3D Bundle by NextWave Automation, which would be perfect for his middle school outfit.
Posted: Tuesday, July 26, 2016 9:05:48 PM
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Taking it in a new direction?

I'm starting my forth year at Franklin Phonetic School on August 3rd, and I'm no longer limited by a small shop... but what I suspect is going to be especially cool this year is the new student 4 days a week, quarterly schedule. The old schedule of every student filtering through the shop on a week and a half rotation usually kept things in a constant state of confusion.

Being able to work on a project only once every week and a half not only altered project choice, but with cramped project storage always a concern, it also hampered project size. Some students would miss a few days and feel lost upon their return and even a few cases of project abandonment were known to have occurred. I'm hoping all that is about to change.

Now I'll be the first to tell you we have been highly successful with what we have been doing, but I have been somewhat frustrated by the limits and I have also seen a lot of student frustration with the the old schedule and over burdened project storage. The problems haven't been huge, but the changes will be welcomed by everyone.... that is until the quarter ends and they have to leave shop for other classes.

I'm looking at a slight adjustment towards a more traditional approach of student's trying their hand at making something of their own design. Not every student may want to do this, but I believe most will. Obviously we still have constraints on what equipment they are able to use, but their motivation and learning should increase.

I have had many requests for building boxes, but there has never been enough time or enough storage space for it. I think those days are over. Here is an example of a great high school crossover project. I say crossover because I believe a middle school student could easily make this small chest and it doesn't have to look exactly like this one, like making finger joint corners instead.

I made this antique reproduction for one of my daughters. We have an old chest that looks exactly like this, but five times larger. I had to ask my daughter to send a photo since she lives far away from us. This photo is from her iphone and it looks pretty good here. The ends are not tilted, that is simply perspective.

This chest is a little bigger than a shoe box and is made from old recycled wood. Remember how I like that antique look? The metal bands are cut from lumber and pallet banding (what was used before shrink wrap and vinyl strapping). There used to be huge piles of these in some of the empty lots near my house before the neighborhoods grew. The inside is lined with wallpaper and it is really quite easy to make.

I'm thinking that my older 7th and 8th grade students might like the idea of making something completely from scratch. And the younger students who will not be on this daily schedule will still have plenty to do because they will still love making any one of the many projects we have developed.

As long as this project is not a class requirement, students can bring in or pay for their own materials. I'll keep you posted!

On a personal note... We just reached 100,000 hits! Has any other post on this site done that?

***UPDATE*** It seems most of my older students are perfectly happy with the projects we have already developed. As before, there are occasional projects from scratch. This one is almost ready to open. The finger joints are fairly easy, although I do keep close watch as each cut is made. Since taking this photo, we have cut it open and placed an edge around the lid that allows the lid to fit perfectly back onto the top. I told this student that I would show her how easy it is to line the box with fabric if she could bring in something from home. If we do that, I will add another photo.

Well, here it is.... with the fabric in place. The fabric is mounted onto dense cardboard which is completely removable piece by piece, so she can still apply a finish if she wants to do that. If that happens, I'll place another photo.

***UPDATE*** 3-10-18 Click here to fast forward to her 8th grade projects.
Posted: Sunday, August 14, 2016 12:00:33 PM
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FINALLY... "The maiden voyage". X-Carve is working!

It has been a little bit of a struggle to get this machine working and I was getting a little nervous about spending a grand on it, especially since we don't really have that kind of money that can go to waste. Who does?

The final pieces of the puzzle have come together. The Locktite keeps the bearings from coming loose, and upgrading from Arduino 8 to Arduino 10 made all the difference when it comes to recognizing the machine when you are ready to carve. It has worked every time I've made the attempt since getting Arduino 10.

Now I'm experimenting with jigs and bits. This jig is made to keep it simple. Snap in a 6" X 6" square and it's ready to run. The jig keeps a space between the material and the base which would allow for piercing cuts. The size keeps the run time short... that is if shallow cuts are used. Outline mode also saves a ton of time. Now it is possible.... for the most part.... to set up and make a cut during one class period.

My eventual plan is to have a larger jig that will also accept a smaller jig or jigs into it, so there will be little time spent switching from one size to the next. I'm also planning to add spring loaded tabs that will keep pressure on one or two edges of the project so it can't wiggle or slip if the piece is slightly loose.

To make smaller pieces cut without having thick enough lines, I fool the program by putting a smaller bit size in the software. That will make the Easel software run most... if not all of the lines.

Even though the bit was too small on this one, the lines of this Valentine still look complete. A flat or round bottom bit would probably have done a better job.

Every one of these examples are simply existing clip art that has been converted into an SVG file format so Easel recognizes it. Out of the six example I have made, this is one of my favorites because the lines are so clean cut... even if I have the image slightly out of focus. (Sorry)

Students should be able to draw out their own designs which can be scanned and made into an SVG file.... that is if I can find a scanner around here. If not, I'll check at the 2nd hand stores.

***UPDATE*** 8-15-16 I was able to get three pre-set hold down sizes made today.... 10" square, 8" square, and 6" square. Here is the 6" square with a spring loaded corner to take up any slack in the material. This is an exploded view showing the spring, dowel, corner and retainer. The retainer is made from a strip of sheet metal. The 1/4" dowel fits into an over sized hole inside the corner of the jig. The spring came from a pen.

***UPDATE*** 8-18-16 This week the X-Carve once again could not be recognized by easel. Again we are left to troubleshoot what is the problem. Finally, after another try, a window popped up saying that the easel driver was out of date. That's very odd.... we haven't even had a chance to make a dozen pieces and now the easel driver needs updating.

It's working now, but not without some frustrating moments. I finally secured an old school laptop with just enough power to run the X-Carve. While setting it up, I found Arduino 11. Another update already? It's all on the laptop now... including Inkscape, and one of the students put it to use too....

Dat Boi?

I'm not sure what this frog image actually means, but it seems to have brought her joy to have crafted it for her family.

***UPDATE*** 10-1-16 You might say we are slowly mastering the X-Carve. Out of the dozen or so projects we have done this week, not a single cut was ruined by the machine suddenly offsetting in the middle or near the end of a cut as it will sometimes do. At first I thought that the offset might be because sometimes the dust will coat the rails, but after a dozen or so cut with no cleaning in between, I'm still not sure what to think about when it does offset in the middle of a pattern.

10-8-16 X-Carve sometimes acts finicky, but after uninstalling and reinstalling software, it is usually back on track. One of the office ladies was able to secure a small grant to get us a new wood shop computer. Well, Adam got it, but as it turns out, it has an HDMI connection for the monitor which will require an adapter that Adam is still trying to find. It doesn't help that he has found another job so he is now part time. In the meantime, here are a few more things we have managed to make.

***UPDATE*** 12-2-16 As some x-carve project paths veer off course and the machine goes wild, the holding jig I made is beginning to look a little messy and frustration is thick as the cause is elusive and the miss cuts add up. I have been searching for solutions and finally found someone mention V-pully tension. The V-pully I am referring to is the wheels that contact the rails allowing the machine to glide smoothly in all directions. Even a slight dust build up along the rails can change their tension, so I always clean after several runs, but I decided to go back and check every single one anyway. Two were suspiciously tight. After I tinkered with them, nothing seems to roll any different, but it seems to have solved the problem. When I go to the trouble shooting forums, I find a lot of people are having a variety of issues and I'm glad to have had ours working as well as it has... but the last week has been one of the best. We haven't lost a project to misdirected paths since the wheels/pulleys were closely inspected and adjusted. And this all took place before the arrival of our brand new windows 10 HD computer. It seems I have been found worthy of having the best computer on campus. Not always feeling that as windows 10 and edge aren't as fast as I would have expected. I'm sure it's bogged down in the typical over engineering and additional ads, clicks to go places, and microsoft messages looking for a solution. My old dinosaur (windows 7) was speedy compared to this.

Skip to the next X-Carve post "Tips and Tricks".

Posted: Sunday, September 18, 2016 4:28:08 PM
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I have the best job in the world!

I can't believe my good fortune to have been able to be a wood shop for my entire career.... and then some. Sure, there were a few times here and there when unique challenges out of my control would make me not feel so lucky, but on the whole, it has been a blast!

Take for instance the other day when a Prescott Area Woodturner showed up with a whole truck load full of new stuff. I mean..... I was floored by what he was bringing into the shop. Brand new in the box stuff and lots of it. Then to make things even better, he informs me that there is more. How would I like to come over and pick out more stuff?

Who wouldn't want to do that! I found myself the next day entering a gated community and winding my way up to a mansion. I think it was two hours of loading up stuff and filling my own truck to the brim. In fact, I had better get going because I want to get over to the school and unload when there is no one in the way. That's when I can drive right up to the door of the shop. I hope I can find enough room to unload.

There is much more to the story.... so stay tuned. I'll keep you posted as it unfolds. Something about grants and a possible new dust collection system. In the mean time, look at these recent projects.

***UPDATE*** 10-1-16 I've been in contact with Oneida dust systems and really like their Gorilla "Quick-Clamp together Ductwork" (which Is made by Nordfab) because of how easy it is to not only build, but to also change as equipment changes become necessary. As I am getting my "DUCTS" in a row (so to speak) for this grant proposal, I'm getting more more excited by the minute.

***UPDATE*** 1-8-18 The phone rings in my shop during 3rd period and the office tells me they just received a $20,000.00 check and my dream is going to become a reality. Exhaust system here we come... and hopefully enough left over for a SawStop. I'll keep you posted.

Skip forward to the next post about getting the grant.
Posted: Saturday, October 8, 2016 12:19:50 PM
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Compressor upgrade

My neighbor made me do it.... and I think it's such a great idea that I'm passing it on to anyone who has difficulty trying to get under the compressor to drain condensation. It has always been such a hassle and they say it should be done every single time it is used. Not only was it hard to access the factory installed drain, it also was hard to make it work properly without causing it to later leak. Pain isn't even the best way to describe it. Impossible comes to mind.

Although I added this to Spring Break Fun where I was making upgrades to my home shop, I'm also posting it here because many visitors might not have a chance to go back through the older posts to find it.

Everyone who uses a compressor knows the frustration with trying to drain condensation after every use. Here in the southwest is no exception as moisture quickly invades compressor tanks even here, and getting down and unscrewing that drain is very nearly "impossible". But, for about $20 for a couple of elbows, a length of pipe and a valve, this chore is now so much easier. My neighbor insisted on the slightly cheaper screw down globe style valve, but I wanted this quick to release ball valve.

For the difference of $3, I believe it to be easier and holds more securely.

Oh.... and what I left out of the photo is a small tray with a folded up paper towel that contains the drained usually rusty condensation water. No sense letting that go all over the shop floor.
Posted: Thursday, November 3, 2016 1:40:04 PM
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Pens from home

I often times have students who end up setting up a home shop to make and selling stuff from home. Here is an example that one mother recently sent to me....

Now this eighth grader came through four years of wood shop starting with after school wood shop in the fourth grade. If I could count the many times students have done things like this, the number would be astounding... after 37 years of teaching.

By the way, what isn't showing in this photo is mom's beaming and proud smile. Two younger daughters have also come through wood shop.

Posted: Thursday, November 3, 2016 3:05:37 PM
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Who is sobbing outside of wood shop?

The other day during a prep period, I heard distinct sobbing outside my wood shop door. Nobody was on the play area outside, so I thought I had better check this out.

I found a little third grader crying her eyes out obviously distraught over something that happened that morning, but where is she suppose to be right now?

When I approached her, I wanted to know what was bothering her. "My back pack isn't here," she exclaimed!

"Well now maybe someone has taken it inside for you already. Why are you not in class," I asked.

I was in the Principal's office" she said.

"What were you doing in the Principal's office" I asked?

"I'd rather not talk about it," she says.

What a cute thing to say!

By this time I can tell she is really upset and almost in a complete panic.... a melt down of epic proportions. I could tell she was beginning to hyperventilate. I took hold of both her knitted gloved hands and started to alternately and lightly squeezing one, then the other, back and forth over and over as I said, "Things can't be so bad."

You know, I was thinking about how soothing this action is for kittens. It was working. I said, "Look how old I am. I've survived this kind of thing before and so will you. How about we go back to your class. Who is your teacher?"

"Ms. ****** but I don't want everyone looking at me when I come into the class late" she says.

So I told her, "I'm sure that's not going to be a problem. By now everyone will be wondering where you are. We better go there now."

She's beginning to calm down and I hold her little hand as we walk slowly to her classroom. I'm nearly 6"-6" and she's maybe 3' tall. It was such a sweet and delightful experience that I will never forget.

My wife just melted when I told her about it. She actually said, "You wouldn't have had that experience if you were back at your old school. You know, she's right.

During my last few years there was a change in climate at my other school. That administration promoted a more hostile and toxic experience for both teacher and student. Their decisions during that time, took the school from an A+ to a B State rating and drove off their finest teachers. But, those people have been gone now for several years and I hear the school is bouncing back nicely.

While it has been stressful at times to start from scratch all over again, and I dread thinking about how horrible it was to pull up stakes and retire that first time, it's also the best move I ever made and I'm actually having so much fun here. No worries. No cares. Just having fun in the wood shop all day long. And... best of all.... the administration here approves. What can be better than that?

***UPDATE*** 12-17-17 She is in my class now.

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