Turning A Magic Wand

Trying out the gripIn the run up to Christmas our family went to Dickens Faire, and my son really wanted to buy a wand at the wand shop.  I told him we could make one at home.   Now that the Christmas rush has passed we’ve finally gotten around to making one.

We chose a length of dowel rod, and I marked the hand-grip section out with a pencil.  Then I put it in the lathe and turned it out freestyle.  We did it out in the driveway to keep my shop from getting full of wood shavings.  I really should put some roller wheels on the end of that lathe.  It’s kind of small but still not much fun to haul out from under the workbench and lug out to the driveway.

Hand on Wand

My son tries the wand’s grip to test the comfort level.

I couldn’t find all my turning tools, but was able to track down a big gouge and I made do with some chisels I had around.   My son seemed to enjoy the process.  He was amazed at how the dowel seemed to stand still after the not-so-centered wobbly parts were turned down and it was running true.  The wand is not going to win any awards but he can hardly put it down.

This summer we dug for Herkimer Diamonds and we’re planning on gluing one to the tip of the wand.   I also will try to make  a secret compartment in the handle by cutting that trailing ball off, center drilling, and re-attaching with a dowel.   Lord only knows how I’ll hold the wand in the lathe for center drilling.   I guess I should have though of that first.

Pastry Cutter Final Results

backingPlateCloseUpAfter finally getting the last parts cut on Dec 23 I had to go into a fabrication frenzy.  I was constantly ducking out into the garage to do the next round of glue and/or paint.   One of the real tricks with these cutters was getting the push plate positioned really accurately inside the cutter walls.   There was no positive alignment when I glued the cutter walls to the top plate.  If the push plate was off by much the plate would bind against the wall and stick.   Here you can see the system I came up with.  I glued up everything else, and positioned the backing plate on a scrap rod.  Then I just put in a few drips of solvent on the backing plate, and plop on the push plate.  I had enough time to position it exactly and then let the solvent do it’s work.  I left the protective paper on the under side of the backing plate so there was no danger of a stray drip of solvent fusing the backing plate.  This system worked great, but it did  mean that the parts weren’t interchangeable.  That really didn’t matter much.

moominSpringI cut some springs/push rods.  I needed them to be just the right lengths so the spring would still exert some upward pressure when fully up, but would bottom out before the push plate could be pushed all the way out of the cutter housing.   That protects the assembly and makes it hard to apply a lot of sideways or pulling forces on the push plate.    I used 1/8″ tubing instead of rod so the glue could bind to the inside of the tube a bit.  It also makes it so you can fill the hole with glue, and when you insert the tube the extra just goes up inside the tube instead of squirting out all around.  I chose stainless over brass to be more food safe.   The springs aren’t stainless though, so they really shouldn’t spend too much time in contact with water.

Moomins ClampedOnce I had assembled and glued the cutters they had to be clamped to keep the springs from tearing them apart before the glue was fully cured.   Here you can see a two Moomins clamped in the jaws of a big Jorgensen Clamp.  Don’t worry.  I was gentle.   I managed to get them all done in time for Christmas *phew*  but I did end up having to give them away 100% untested.  Eek!

moomintrollCutResultsThe day after Christmas I finally got to take them for a test drive.  I had had to make the cutting walls a bit thicker than I would have liked, in order to have enough surface area for the solvent welding.  That made it so you have to push down a bit harder than with the comercial cutters, and give a little bit of a twist or your Moomins end up with a paper thin fringe, but ultimately they worked fine.  Giving gifts I hadn’t fully tested was a  bit hair raising, but it all worked out in the end.

The details were crisp, and after some baking so were the Moomins.  Mission accomplished!

Pastry Cutter Progress

In this project I only had two disasters.  I often keep my projects in sewing boxes because they’re cheap, stack well, have semi clear sides (so you can see what’s in them), and have nice rubber handles.    The down side is that they do not have locking lids.   That used to worry me, but in all the years I’ve been using them it had never bitten me.   Until this year.   I was hauling the box out of the trunk of my car when one of the latches caught on my jacket pocket, and dumped everything out into my driveway.  In the dark.   In the pouring rain.     Trying to find tiny clear plastic Moomin facial features in that torrent was no fun.

The other disaster was more burocratic.   I have Wednesday nights to do these kinds of projects.  It’s my night off from being a Dad and I often spend it at TechShop.   Normally booking the laser is pretty easy, but in the run up to Christmas the schedule gets filled up by busy Christmas Elves.   This year I forgot to make one of the weekly reservations and was suddenly looking at doing much of the lasering on the day before Christmas Eve.  That put a big kink in my gluing schedule.

snufkinGlueUpI used two kinds of glue in this project.   Most of the parts are bonded using acrylic solvent welding, and the bond between the metal push rod and the plastic cap/base was done with J-B Weld’s Kwik.  I knew that aligning and solvent welding the thin “outline” parts that form the cutter would be a pain, so I laser cut a wooden form that could be placed inside the sections and force them to stay alighted while I applied solvent around the edge with a syringe.  Not being plastic I wouldn’t have to worry about them getting glued in place.   I also made the alignment pieces have some “cutouts” so  those sections would be easier to get in/out and wouldn’t pull solvent away from the plastic pieces via capillary action.  The only downside was that these forms left a small amount of black charred-wood-crud on the insides of the cutters, but most of that could be removed by the light sanding I needed to do anyway.

moominStampPartsI made Moomintroll’s face out of a lot of tiny separate pieces.   I figured that way each Moomin face would be slightly different and that would be nice.  What was less nice was the large amount of time spent positioning every eye and eyebrow with tweezers, and the addition time needed for swearing every time my syringe full of solvent knocked one of those tiny little pieces out of place.   On the other designs I grouped the pieces together.   Snufkin only has his face, pipe, and hat feather.  MUCH easier to position and glue.   When I suddenly was faced with a week less time to do this gluing I decided to build something to make the gluing go faster.    I thought “what if I build some sort of vacuum clamping setup?”

vacuumClampI wanted something that would hold the parts in place as the solvent did its work, and also let me see what was going on in case something got knocked askew.   I got a fish tank air pump, reversed the valves so it was sucking instead of blowing, and used that in conjunction with two 1/4″ acrylic sheets and some weather stripping to make a vacuum clamping area.   I thought  “I can apply the solvent, put the cover on, turn on the pump, and I’ll be able to see everything.   This is the sort of desperation that comes from suddenly loosing a week of gluing.

Was the vacuum clamp a success? As it turns out the weather stripping leaked enough to make the clamping action very slight, but it did make a nice clear box with just enough clamping action to hold the facial features in place while I then piled a big heavy chunk of metal on top to provide the final clamping pressure.  So all in all I judge the vacuum clamping chamber to have been a “modest success” instead of a complete waste of time.

snufkinPaintedGluing and painting.  To make the images of the characters on the tops of the cutters I laser etched the designs though the acrylic’s protective paper. Then I used a piece of rubber to squeegee the paint down into the etched areas.  Finally once the paint has dried some I peal the paper way.  It’s best to do that before the paint has fully dried because the fully cured paint is stronger and pulling the paper away can pull bits of paint out of the design.  When the paint is still weak it comes away clean.

Making Custom Moomin Pastry Cutters

moomintrollAndLeafEvery year I do some sort of Big Christmas Project.  This year I decided to keep it kind  of low-key.   We have some pastry cutters in the shape of leaves.  They’re nice because they let you stamp the veins of the leaf on, and cut the leaf out in a simple sequence.  When we make pie we often also make “Cheese Leaves” from left over crust so the kiddos can have some fun stamping them out, and sprinkling on cheese.  That way they also get a tasty snack long before the pie itself is done. I thought it would be nice to make some of these awesome cutter/stamper in more personalized fun shapes.

I’m a big fan of  Tove Janson.   My mom read me many of her Moomin books when I was a kid, and I have in turn read them to my kids.   Tove Janson’s illustrations are fantastic, and The Moomins have a nice way of dealing with life.  When a flood traps them on the second floor of their home they don’t moan and complain.  They cut a hole in the kitchen ceiling and marvel as seeing  that room from a new perspective.  They take turns diving for breakfast fixings.   I decided it would be fun to make some Moomin themed pastry cutters.

I knew I could make food safe parts out of laser cut acrylic, and I went to work in illustrator making a prototype out of clear acrylic scraps.  I had to see if quarter-inch acrylic could be stacked and glued to make the fairly deep cutter.  Here you can see the rough initial prototype of the Moomintroll cutter next to the commercial maple leaf that inspired this project.