I Made A Ladder!

Yes, I did.

Please note that I did not title this post “how to make a ladder”.

This was for my daughter’s play set in the back yard, which has had my 6-foot stepladder leaning against it for a few weeks now.

I started by leaning a 6-foot length of redwood against the play set to figure out what angle the ladder should lean at.

This was close enough to 30-degrees, so I used 30 as my number.
I cut two lengths of redwood to length with matching 30-degree cuts on the top and bottom edges.

Then I used a tape measure to mark intervals on both pieces to note where the center of each step should be.

I used the table saw and the miter gauge to cut slots at 30-degrees to make the edges of a mortise; and then used a router to freehand cut the insides out (working carefully, the kirf of the table saw cut is enough of a buffer to rout this out freehand).

Since I’m not very good at measuring, the mortises were all too narrow, so I slapped together a little tenoning jig to trim the ends of the steps (this was easier than trying to cut all the mortises a little wider).

I successfully got all the steps installed on one rail of the ladder (glue and screws), and then realized that I was not going to be able to get all of the tenons to line up on the other rail. There were little imperfections in the wood and construction, and all together across all the steps this was enough to make it impossible to line everything up at once.

So I made a little router jig (read: “I cut a piece of plywood”) to shave a little more wood off each tenon’s width (the tricky part is that the steps were already installed on one side).

Meanwhile I was doing a lot of stepping over and around the half-assembled ladder and managed to catch the corner of a step with the underside of my knee…

REALLY?!?! Not only am I supposed to wear “close-toed shoes” in the garage, but now I have to wear pants too?!

Next you’re going to say I should be wearing gloves!
Lathe compound repair



In any case, that last bit of adjusting with the router worked, and I finished the ladder… and then put on some pants and ate dinner.

Granite Surface Plate – Part 2

Continued from Part 1

So, to set the scene:

I’ve got a 1200-pound slab of granite resting on a metal cart with wheels… in the back of my truck.

I also have an ingenious system of ramps and winches to load the granite into the truck.

The problem now is how to get it out.

…in a controlled manner.

As I thought this through, I broke the operation down into 3 steps.

Step 1: Use pulleys to pull the granite towards the tailgate.
Step 2: Re-configure the cable to pull from outside the cart’s legs.

Step 3: Once the granite is ready to role down the ramps, move the winch cable back to the “loading” position, and slowly let the cable out.

In practice, it went very similarly to this, at first.
Step 1:
Granite Surface plate

Step 2:
(I clamped a 2×4 onto the stand and against the back of truck cab to keep the granite from rolling back into place while I moved the cable to the other side of the leg)
Granite Surface plate

Step 3:
… here’s where I hit a snag.
Instead of rolling smoothly onto the ramps, the wheels of the granite were simply pushing the ramps off the end of the tailgate.

I tried running a rope around the end of the ramps, but that didn’t work, since I needed the keep the ramps separated to align with the cart wheels and the rope kept pulling the ramps together and askew.

So I did something a little more involved.

First I secured the granite back into place, wanting to avoid a bad situation while I worked behind the truck.

I drilled holes and then cut slots in the plywood on top of the metal ramps with my jigsaw (cutting just the wood, not the metal).
Granite Surface plate

Granite Surface plate

Then I ran one strap through each of the ramps,Granite Surface plate

and secured them to the bumper.
Granite Surface plate

Then I went back through steps 1 and 2, and this time the granite rolled effortlessly onto the edge of the ramps.

Before I pulled the front wheels of the granite onto the downward slope of the ramp, I clamped a 2×4 across the bed of the truck, in a position that would stop the granite just after it started pulling itself down the ramps (but before it started to gain any significant momentum)
IMAG0386Granite Surface plate

With the granite resting against this 2×4, I walked around the FRONT of the truck to get to the cable on the other side of the truck bed and move the cable into the “pulling” position to use the winch to slowly let the granite down the ramp.
Granite Surface plate

Granite Surface plate

…I need a nap.
…and a change of pants.

NOTE: at all points during this process, unless the granite was fully secured, I only walked in FRONT of the truck, not behind it in the path of the granite should something fail. Keep in mind, 1200-pounds is a lot of pounds… Significantly more pounds than my one-rep max for bench press.


Granite Surface Plate – Part 1

I’ve been trawling Craigslist lately for… pretty much anything. I used to just click “for sale” and then “tools” and see if I needed anything; but the last few weeks I’ve done slightly more targeted searches.

I would type something generic in the search (“router”, “lathe”, “mill”, etc…), just to limit the number of floor scrapers and tile saws I had to sift through.

However, it turns out that even this limited filtering was excessive: I had been completely missing out on granite surface plates!

What is a surface plate? Google it.

In the unlikely event that Google brings you back here:

A surface plate is a certified flat surface with very tight tolerances for precision. It is used to check or verify the flatness of a tool or work piece. They are typically made of granite because it can be ground very flat and is stable enough to resist flexing and warping with pressure and temperature changes. It is also hard enough to come into frequent contact with metal surfaces without being worn out of true.

I stumbled across a small surface plate for $275 dollars, and it was a bit a expensive for my purposes, but I knew my father-in-law had been eyeing them too, so I sent him the link.

He replied with a counter-link: a huge 24-inch by 36-inch slab, 6-inches thick on a rolling metal stand for only $80! It weighed around 1200lbs… but only $80!

I called up my friend with a small flatbed trailer, and he was willing to lend it to the cause.

I contacted the seller, he still had it.

Game on.

I borrowed the trailer from my friend the next morning, threw some plywood in my truck to use as a ramp, and headed off to pick up my new flat surface.

I arrived at the location, got out of my truck, and it promptly started pouring down rain.

The seller came outside and we began a long process of looking back and forth between the trailer, the plywood “ramp”, and the granite, with our hands in our pockets, in the rain.

“Will the trailer hold it?”

“According to the manual, it should…”

“Should we try to get a running start?”

“…how would we stop the granite?”


<head scratch>

<other scratch>

“will the plywood ramp hold it?”



“well… it’s not going anywhere, if you want to come back and try another day…”

“that’s probably a good idea.”

I forgot to take a picture of this process, but it looked something like this:
And so I returned home, empty-handed and damp.

After a few sleepless nights and un-productive days at work, I came up with a plan. I had a small ATV winch with a 2000lb capacity, and a pair of loading ramps from Harbor Freight that can hold 1000lbs that I used in the past to load my motorcycle.

Loading winch

I bought one more ramp set with a coupon for $50, for a total of 2000lbs of loading capacity, and a pair of 16-foot jumper cables to power the winch for $17. With proper ramps I no longer saw any advantage to using the small trailer, so I returned it to my friend and started working on a setup to use the winch to load the granite directly into my pickup truck.

First I welded together a frame to mount the winch in the bed of the truck, up against the cab. it has extension arms held together with bolts and installed in the truck with clamps and straps so I can easily remove and store it.

Then I covered the ramps with  1/2-inch plywood secured with carriage bolts to give the wheels a smaller step up onto the ramp and a smoother ascension into the truck.

This took about a week and a half to finish (interlaced with life in general), but I was finally ready to go get the granite last week.

The sun was shining and I arrived to be greeted with complements on my welding job and general optimism that we may succeed.

We were all impressed with how well the whole thing worked and in 10 minutes I was on my way home with my acquisition.
Granite Surface plate

I drove very slowly and arrived without incident and started the simple process of reversing the loading procedure.

Right… how exactly do you get a 1200lb piece of granite out of a truck?

<To Be Continued>

Miter Saw Fence

I have a monster of a miter saw.
Plywood Door

It’s a 12-inch sliding compound miter saw that I picked up from a guy on craigslist. It’s awesome.

However, I’ve been using it a lot lately and have been noticing that the angles need a lot of fine tuning to get exactly 45 or 90 degree cuts.

At first I thought it was just the positive lock mechanism needing some tweaking, but on closer examination, I found that the problem was the saw’s fence itself.

If I held a straight edge against the fence, I could see that both sides (although one more than the other) drifted further back as the neared the center, and the two sides were not parallel with each other.
Miter Saw

This meant that the angle of a cut could be wrong in three ways, depending on how I held the board (one angle if the board referenced both fence surfaces, and another angle for each of the two surfaces alone if trimming the end of a board).

I know I’ve recently outed myself as something of a rebel when it comes to precision, but not being able to cut at a specific angle when needed is always a bad thing.

But how to correct this? The fence is a single piece of cast aluminum, and can’t be bent without breaking, so I couldn’t just straighten it out, I needed to fix the surface.

When I looked more closely I saw that the fence was not bent out of shape, but rather worn out of shape. The saw had been previously owned by a production shop that used it almost exclusively for cutting aluminum, which apparently, over time, had worn down the fence.

So then I thought the solution might be the milling machine (to be perfectly honest, I try to use the milling machine as the solution to almost every problem). The difficulty with milling the surfaces flat would be keeping the fence perfectly parallel to the milling table in two different clamping positions to address each side. Ultimately this seemed like a big risk.

Then I noticed two 1/4-inch holes on each side of the fence, and realized that the solution was to add an auxiliary fence to the saw.

I wanted the fence to be rigid and thin (so as not to reduce the cutting capacity too much), and I decided to make it out of 1/4-inch thick aluminum tool plate (I had some laying around that I picked up as a remnant from the local metal supply store).
Miter Saw

I roughly cut two 3-inch wide strips and squared the edges on the milling machine (I knew I needed it!). I then marked the locations of the holes and edges in order to keep from mixing up the two parts, and then countersunk and drilled holes (in that order) to line up with the holes in the fence.
Miter Saw

Unfortunately I countersunk the wrong side of each piece, but luckily the hole positions are mirror images of each other on the left and right sides of the fence, so I just pretended I meant to do that and casually attached them to the opposite side with beveled machine screws and nylon lock nuts.
Miter Saw

That’s it.  Now I have a straight and sturdy secondary surface that I can shim if necessary to get a perfectly true alignment and then never think about again.

Shh! The Baby’s Sleeping!

My daughter is 1.5 years old and goes to bed around 7pm.

I get home from work around 5:30pm and after dinner, play time, and bath time, 7pm comes too quickly.

I’m not complaining that I don’t get enough time to play with my daughter, I’m complaining that I can’t make any loud noises after 7pm.

When she’s asleep, I can’t use the  table saw, circular saw, air compressor, bench grinder, angle grinder, sander, router, impact driver, or shop vac.

This cramps my style.

Want to break down plywood sheets? Can’t. Want to rip a 2×4? Can’t. Want to clean up the garage? No. But even if I wanted to, I can’t.

I do have some power tools that are a bit quieter that I can use after curfew.

My bandsaw, scroll saw, jig saw, milling machine, lathe, drill press, and hand tools are all available (although hammers are iffy).

Over the course of my pergola project, I have made extensive use of my hand saw and chisels to trim posts and timbers at night… in the cold… while it was raining… barefoot… uphill both ways.

Last night I needed to cut a 1.25-inch wide channel 1-inch deep along the length of a 4×4 post 40-inches long.

The tool for the job was the table saw with a dado stack, or the router table with a spiral cutter. But since it was 8pm, these were off limits. What was available was the milling machine.

I haven’t found a lot of examples of people using their milling machines for wood, but in my experience they work very well.

Since the post was 40-inches long and my milling machine only moves 18-inches on the y-axis I had to clamp the post in place in three different positions in the vise to cut the full length, but it worked really well.

The process was simple:

    1. move the table all the way to the left
    2. clamp the post in the vice with the start of the post near the cutter

Milling Wood

    1. turn on the milling machine and turn it up to full speed
    2. crank the handle to move the table to the right as fast as you can
    3. widen the cut with a second pass

Milling Wood

  1. repeat as necessary, shifting the post to the right in the vice each time until the full length is cut.

Milling Wood

The milling machine spins very slowly compared to a router (2000RPM versus 25000RPM, but the vise holds the piece securely and I was able to make full-depth cuts with a 3/4-inch end mill without bogging the milling machine down at all.
Milling Wood

Granted, I was cutting douglas fir, but my experiments with oak have not turned out any differently. Apparently wood just isn’t much of a challenge for metal-working machines.

And it only took about 8-minutes to cut the channel in the board, including setup time, which is really not bad.

Plus I didn’t wake the baby!

Full disclosure: when I turned off the milling machine my daughter was crying, but I’m reasonably certain that was coincidental.

Del Mar

Inca Bandsaw Fence – Part 3 – The Fence

And so we come to the conclusion of the Inca Bandsaw Fence series.

At this stage I had a rail for the fence to slide on, a carriage that follows and locks onto the rail, and a mounting bracket extending vertically from the carriage for the fence itself.

The best material I found to make a fence was extruded aluminum rectangular tubing (about 1.5 inches wide and 3 inches tall). Aluminum extrusions tend to be very straight and since my saw’s table is also aluminum, using a harder metal could possibly damage the table over time.

I picked up a 36-inch piece of the aforementioned tubing as a remnant from the local metal supply store ($2.70 per pound) and cut 16 inches off to make my fence.

The fence needed to be connected to the vertical bracket attached to the carriage. My first thought was to attach it with bolts on the backside of the fence, but then the width of the fence would be limiting the cutting capacity of the saw by a full 1.5-inches. So I decided to attach the bracket to the inside of the tubing.

In order to do this I cut a slot in the bottom of the fence, right along the front edge where I wanted to attach it to the carriage.

Then I drilled and countersank two mounting holes. I transferred the location of these holes to the bracket and then drilled holes in the bracket accordingly.
Bandsaw Fence - Mount
Bandsaw Fence - Mount
Note: If you are a particularly observant reader, you will notice that I showed a picture of the bracket in “part 2” of this series, but here I am claiming that they were drilled as a step in “part 3”.  Well done.

The arrangement of the holes is not merely aesthetic. If the holes were aligned with each other horizontally, they would provide only limited vertical support. Likewise vertical holes would provide limited horizontal support. My theory is that diagonally arranged holes will be the best of both worlds.

Bandsaw Fence - Mount

I inserted brass (because it’s pretty) machine screws through the holes and secured them with washers and locknuts (to prevent loosening during operation).
Bandsaw Fence
Bandsaw Fence

And that’s it.

IMAG1284Bandsaw Fence

There is a bit of flex on the far end of the fence if to apply a lot of lateral pressure, but since my workpieces will be small and kickback is not a concern on the bandsaw, I won’t be pressing hard against the fence, so I think it is rigid enough.

That said, I’ll probably tinker with it at some point to make the far end lock in place as well.

Inca Bandsaw Fence – Part 2 – The Carriage

For lack of specific knowledge and due to a general laziness when it comes to looking things up on Google, I’m calling this part of the bandsaw fence a “carriage”:

fence scribble

(actually, I’m not certain my affliction can be considered “laziness” since I just went through the trouble of drawing a picture instead of just looking up the correct name… maybe I just feel like it is a carriage, whether or or not that’s what it’s officially called).

In any case, after completing the rail, I turned my attention to the part connecting the fence to the rail.

Essentially this works like a C-clamp, with the rail being pinched between a screw and a pressure plate. The construction may vary, but the most important aspect is that the carriage must be designed so that it is rigidly square with the rail when it is tightened in place.

I used a small piece of angle iron to act as the pressure plate. I shortened one side of the “L” (the “pressure plate” side) so that it wouldn’t hit the bolts on the underside of the rail.

Then I attached a vertical piece of steel that I milled flat and square. I kept it parallel to the angle iron by clamping a piece of metal in between it and the short end of the angle while welding it.

I drilled and tapped 1/4-20 threads into the vertical piece of steel and ran a Rockler star knob through it.
IMAG1232Bandsaw Fence - Slide/Lock

Bandsaw Fence - Slide/Lock

This tested okay, but I didn’t want the screw to mess up the rail over time, so I added a thinner piece of steel that was flexible enough to allow the fence to move while the knob was loose and still bear down hard on the rail when the knob was tightened.

Bandsaw Fence - Slide/Lock

So now I had an assembly that could be locked into any location with a mounting surface that was consistently parallel to the rail. The next step was to make a bracket that the fence itself could attach to.

I made the bracket out of a piece of trailer hitch tube I had leftover from another project.

I started by milling two sides flat and square with each other.

Bandsaw Fence - Mount

After that I cut off the other two sides and shortened one side so that the other would stick up above the bandsaw table perpendicular to the shorter side which would be mounted to the rest of the carriage assembly.

Like so:

Bandsaw Fence - Mount

I mounted this with a single 5/16″ bolt through the carriage assembly, which allowed it to be pivoted as necessary to keep the upright portion vertical (parallel to the blade).

Bandsaw Fence - Mount
Bandsaw Fence - Mount

And now I could turn my attention to the final component: Part 3 – the Fence!

Coming soon.