Saturday, October 28, 2017

Fireplace Mantel --- There Shall Be Tweaking Going On

Well, with this post, the blog is finally caught up with the project.

The project ain't done....not by a long shot. But the motivation to write was stronger than the reality that my back would be made worse than it already is if I even tried to lift one of these stumps, much less keep trying to re-position them as needed.

In fact, it could be quite awhile before there's another post in this series if this back doesn't get a whole lot better....soon!

Add to this that several more projects are either in the works, or need to be in the works, that haven't been completed or even begun for that matter, and frustrating doesn't begin to describe how I'm feeling right now!

Enough with the pity party.

Get to writing!

So, this post is dedicated to tweaking the shapes of the stumps to help them flow into each other where they're joined together even though they haven't actually had the glue or the screws applied just yet. More on this in the next post....whenever that may be. DAMN...gotta stop the pity partying!!!

Before the tweaking could begin, however, something that had been bothering me for quite some time finally had to be addressed before going any further.

One of the stumps (photo below) had a hole all the way through. That hole was filled with dirt and rotted material from the core heartwood of the tree it came from. To leave that dirt and rot alone and seal it into the finished product simply was not going to work. Nope! Not even a little bit!

Cleaning out as much as could be reached by hand and with the long neck die grinder took the amount to be cleaned out down a bit, but there was still a bunch that just couldn't be reached:

Enter the power washer.

I've never been a big fan of power washing these kinds of wood pieces because I end up soaked from head to toe and full of mud and debris from the piece, as well. Call me a glutton for punishment, but there will be no full body protective gear for me. Too bulky, and too cumbersome!

The irregular shapes of each piece make power washing all that more difficult....all it takes in one little nook or cranny, and shaZAM...the body soaking begins! If the weather is warm, it's not as bad as it could be, but it's bad enough!

Setting up was simple. A pallet to set the piece on while washing helped with minimizing splashback and creating too much of a mud bath. It didn't eliminate them, but getting the stump off the ground even a little bit helped immensely! The oscillating nozzle on the washer also helped shorten the time spent cleaning it out:

The end result was a complete clean-out:

With that part of the project finally out of the way, the real tweaking could begin.

The overhang or overlap, as it were, had to be removed:

The way to do that involved rough scribing a portion of stock for removal. Magic markers sure do come in handy for this sort of thing. Positioning for best fit didn't hurt either:

Once again, that handy dandy Stihl 440 Magnum earned its keep! A sharp chain also helped: 

This saw served me well for many years, but being the old guy I'm getting to be, the weight of this chainsaw convinced me to sell it and buy something a whole lot smaller. Another story for another blog post, eh?

Once the marked stock had been rough removed, it was time to see how things lined up.

First column:

Second column:

Both columns:

Looking pretty darn good if I do say so myself.

And that's as far as this project has gone as far as shaping is concerned. The joining will be done as soon as practicable and as soon as a healed back allows.

In the meantime, choosing a stain for the columns is the next step:

Which one do all y'all fancy?

Friday, October 27, 2017

Fireplace Mantel --- The Concept

Well, given my back is still giving me a whole lot more trouble than I thought it would be giving me after all this time, what better task for me than to put in writing more of the progress that's been made on this project?

A couple of blog posts ago, in Peeling Me Some Pine Stumps, the stumps chosen to make up the columns for this project actually started to look like they might work. The only thing is, the pieces to that puzzle hadn't yet been set up to actually be the columns in more finished form.

Conceptually speaking, I'd set them up in very rough form:

But, that set up wasn't truly representative of what they should come close to looking like in finished form. That's what today's blog post is ultimately intended to show.

Anyway, the first step in the process was to mix and match all four stumps for best "fit" with each other (see previous blog post mentioned above) to determine which two would go on top and which two would constitute the bottom of each column.

After two top pieces and two bottom pieces were chosen, the bottom pieces were set aside to work on later.

The two top pieces were set and fit as close to each other as possible, and were then eyeballed to see how much would need to be removed in order to get to an identical flat surface on both stumps:

Keeping in mind that a minimum of stock removal was critical for this to work since there wasn't a lot of extra to play with, both stumps were shimmed to accommodate that requirement (see photo below showing one of them with shim in place) all the while eyeballing and re-positioning frequently and as necessary for best alignment.

DANG, but those things are HEAVY!

Because they are so heavy, securing them to the router planer table wasn't necessary to prevent movement back and forth. However, shims were necessary to keep them stable enough so they wouldn't wobble when the router passed over.

Yep! Should work:

Measure twice....rout once! Learned that adage the hard way far too many times to remember.

Just right! There's just enough to allow for about 1/2" of stock removal to get both stumps down to the necessary height for the top two stumps on this pass: 

Once the ends of these two stumps have been planed down, it's a simple matter to just flip them over and do the other ends the very same way. Then it'll be on to the bottom two stumps to do the same thing with them all over again.

Let the router planing begin!

But wait!

I know I'm tall, but I ain't THAT tall!

The router planer table height combined with the stump height was just too high for me, even as tall as I am, to comfortably reach while standing on the floor. So, it became necessary to rig a jig (see what I did there?) to give me a few more inches in height.

Good thing I had some scrap lumber and car ramps sitting around! The little bit of time it took to come up with a raised platform to stand on was well worth it. It actually added about 12 inches to my height....while standing on the platform, of course:

After all four stumps were routed down to height, the true test was in whether the two columns were now the same height. So, hefting those lightweights (just kidding) up on each other, this is how they look now:

And, the good news is the two columns are exactly the same height, and that height is exactly what is needed to fit on the hearth they'll eventually be mounted on:

And, just to make sure I measured right, and to give a better idea what these columns will ultimately look like with mantel slab in place, I set a flat 48 inch slab from my scrap pile on top of the columns. The actual mantel slab is 9 feet long. The final placement of the columns on the hearth will be farther apart on either side of the firebox opening than shown here just to give some perspective.

Now THAT's kickin' some serious fireplace mantel butt:

I gotta tell ya, being these stumps are so big and so cumbersome, there was an ever so slight amount of trepidation on my part that this idea, this concept, wasn't going to work, and that I'd have to go in another direction completely if they didn't.

Truth be known, there's still a bit of trepidation, though, because four stumps must now become two by joining together the uppers to the lowers, and we're not talking about false teeth here, either.

I'm thinking wood glue between the upper and lower stumps should be a good way to attach them to each other, but, just to make absolutely sure they won't come apart, I plan to use Timberlock lag screws, as well.

Holes will be drilled diagonally from top stumps into bottom stumps to accommodate the screws. Of course, the holes drilled to accommodate the screws will also need to have plugs to fill them in, but this should work, right?

Time will tell.....

Stay tuned!

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Fireplace Mantel --- I think my tools of choice are beginning to hate me just a little bit....

Well, the old back ain't what it used to be....not that it was ever a bastion of strength to begin with, but this is getting ridiculous!

I've been kind of laid up now for about going on two weeks. That means not being able to do much of anything. Even sitting for any length of time working on the computer has been impossible. So, being able to withstand the physical exertions required by shop work and bending over the project I'm working on has been out of the question, too.


Fortunately, now that the back is getting a little better and time at the computer isn't as painful as it was just a couple days ago, I thought it might be a good time to at least catch up on my blog writing in order to also catch up to where I actually am in the process of making a fireplace mantel for Alan and Mendon. And therein lies the reason for multiple posts rapid fire, so to speak.

This blog post deals with my preferred tools of choice for carving, shaping, sanding, and grinding.

The angle grinders in the photo below have been outfitted with either a carbide grinding wheel rasp (far left in photo below) or a flap sanding wheel (center of photo).

Flap sanding wheels are particularly useful because they come in varying grits and remove stock very well leaving a minimum of striations to sand out when finish sanding.

The long neck die grinder is outfitted in this photo with a ball rasp that works for most applications when getting into those difficult nooks and crannies. If this rasp is too big to fit, I do have smaller rasps not shown that usually work for those tighter fits.

One of the difficulties encountered in working with the type of wood being used for the columns in this project is pitch accumulation. The stumps that make up the columns are what we fondly call "pitch balls" or "resin root balls". It doesn't matter what they are actually called, but suffice to say the pitch/resin gunks up the works pretty darn fast when it's as thick as it is in these pieces.

And that's why I titled this blog post "I think my tools of choice are beginning to hate me just a little bit". The pitch makes the tool work harder and longer to get desired results than it would if another kind of wood were being used. So, after toiling away for what seems like interminable time frames, no wonder those tools look at me with those nasty glares....well, not really, but I gotta wonder if my nasty glares at the column pieces is the same thing? Perhaps transference?

The photo below shows just how bad the pitch buildup can be. This build up causes undue smoke and actual burning if it's left on the tool for too long a period of time.

But removal can also be problematic in that taking a wire brush mounted on a bench grinder or some other portable power tool, such as another angle grinder, to it doesn't work and can be downright dangerous! A hand held wire brush simply does not work!

So, what to do? What to do? A dilemma for sure.

And it's not only the angle grinders that suffer this fate.

The good news is there is an answer to this dilemma....some of my woodworking buddies on told me that a mineral spirits or acetone "bath" works about the best of any methods out there to clean up and remove the pitch build up on tools. Both require adequate ventilation and other safety precautions such as spill prevention and being careful to wear nitrile gloves to prevent accidentally getting it on the skin. I chose acetone.

As the grinding wheel rasp in the photo below shows, acetone is pretty darn effective, and, while it does remove at least some of the "finish" on the rasp, it doesn't affect the integrity of the rasp, itself.

Sorry, but I don't have a photo of how this worked on the carbide rasp ball. You're just going to have to take my word for it that it's also almost as good as new.

Now on to clogging them up again if my back would ever heal to a point where I can actually DO IT!!!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Fireplace Mantel --- Almost a BooBoo

Waaaaaay back in March of this year something happened that hearkened me back to a few years ago....well, more than a few years ago....when that same Stihl 440 Magnum chainsaw shown in the photo below and I had a fight. Guess who won?

Yup. The Stihl definitely won that go-round by slicing a gash approximately 6" long diagonally just above and across my left kneecap that could have been catastrophic had it gone into ligaments or bone or struck a vein or artery. Thankfully, it didn't, but it did require 61 stitches inside the gash and out in order to close it up.

I won't show the scar. Nor will I go into any of the gory details of what transpired as Katherine forcefully...very forcefully...tried to convince me I needed to load my ass into the car to get me to the clinic in order to get that gash all sewn up. Thing is, I was wandering around in shock fretting about getting all the gear loaded up first, and she knew I sometimes feinted at the site of my own blood. So, if I did go down, she knew she'd never be able to lift me into the car. So, yeah, I got yelled at repeatedly to GET YOUR ASS INTO THE CAR!!!! She did finally get through to me even with my muddled senses. I finally GOT MY ASS INTO THE CAR, and off we went.

There's much more to this story than I'm sharing here, but all's well that ends well in the final analysis. The wound healed, and the scar is a constant reminder to put safety first whenever and wherever a chainsaw is about to be put to use.

Now fast forward to firing up that old reliable 440 to try and do some trim work on the fireplace mantel I'm still working on for Alan and Mendon.

The photo below shows part of the process for trim work on the pieces that will eventually become the columns for the mantel slab, itself. Most of the more rough trim work had already been done. The day I'm talking about in this blog post was intended to involve some finer trimming, and that's when the fight started.

The biggest lesson I learned from my previous fiasco is to immediately don protective gear before doing anything else with a chainsaw just in case. It doesn't matter how big or small a project is to be worked on. In fact, when I lost the first fight with this chainsaw, I was taking down a 3-4" diameter dead aspen tree when it bucked and caused the saw to do its dirty deed on my knee. Learning the hard way that a chainsaw can buck no matter what's being worked on isn't something I ever want to revisit again....EVER!

Protective gear includes chainsaw chaps that are supposed to stop a chain, broken or not, in its tracks by gumming it up. While I've never had the gory pleasure of actually testing this supposed safety feature....yeah, I wasn't wearing them the first go round, and that's the reason why I have the scar on my knee....what happened this day came about as close as I ever want to actually having to rely on those chaps to protect me from harm.

Hence, my own personal safety checklist:

  • Chaps on and clips fastened...check.
  • Protective shoes on...check.
  • Helmet with ear muffs for hearing protection and face mask for eye protection on and in place...check.
  • Protective eye wear on in addition to the helmet face mask because the face mask is a mesh which allows some sawdust through which also poses a risk to the eyes...check.

Should be ready to rock and roll, right?

Oh, and a few more items on the safety checklist menu:
  • Chain has been snugged up so the tension is just right...check.
  • Lug nuts have been tightened to keep chain tension at optimum...check.
  • Correct fuel mixture has been added...check.
  • Bar oil reservoir has been filled...check.
  • All pieces and parts have been checked and passed inspection...check.

Start her up, and BAM!!! Chain flies off the bar. 

What the.....?

Yes, indeed. Even with all the safety checks, the best laid plans can, and oftentimes do, go astray.

Even though the chain did not do damage to me or to my protective gear, this was scary! In fact, this incident convinced me to walk away for the day to settle some very rattled nerves.

The saw got put away and conspired to fight with me another day, and I still haven't figured out what caused that chain to do what it did.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Fireplace Mantel --- Peeling Me Some Pine Stumps

For this one, I'm going to back up just a wee bit just to show how much charcoal actually had to be removed on the fatty before getting down to the core wood. That's why I titled this post "Peeling Me Some Pine Stumps".

After removing quite a lot from a part of the log that amounted to about 1/3 of the circumference (second photo below), that's when the decision got made to shorten that bugger down and try to find another one to go on top! My rationale was not only to do a "Treebeard" type of column, but also to lighten the load. That damn thing was way too heavy as is to keep on maneuvering it into position to work on.

The other one had to be eyeball flatted with the chainsaw before I could realistically get a feel for how it was going to sit on top of the fatty.

Once I got the bottom (or top, as it were) flattened, it was pretty simple, really, to mark the top (or bottom, as it were) and flatten that with the chainsaw. It really didn't matter at this point if everything wasn't perfect. There just had to be enough wiggle room left over in order to put the whole thing under the router planer later on in the process to get the top and bottom (or bottom and top as it were) perfectly parallel with each other.

Some pretty solid core wood on this one. Yep, I think it'll do.

One side had a bit of dry rot, but it isn't enough to rule out this log. That should come out easily enough with the angle grinder and rasp disc.

This one, however, was going to be more of a challenge overall because it had dry rot all the way through. That debris in the center will need to get power washed to clean it all out.

A kind of a "before and after" duo of photos of the fatty after some serious grinding:

There's actually a LOT of work that goes into grinding and shaping on projects like this. Some folks prefer the more "natural" look which involves leaving everything alone. I personally don't like that look very much. Everything needs to flow before I'm happy.

So, once the other side was ground down, this side looked to be a bit easier to work with. I said "looked to be", not that it actually wound up that way. No sirree!

And this is why it turned out to be more difficult than anticipated....lots and lots of grooves, crevices, and inlets that the grinder couldn't get into. That's when the long neck electric die grinder came out and away I went!

Getting there!

There's that symmetry thing again. Some of the "feet" of this piece stuck out way too far, so they got trimmed using the chainsaw. Then the grinder....again, in order to round over the edges to give it all a more flowing look.

Showing the crevices the grinder couldn't get into.

All cleaned up, and ready for the router planer.

The two pieces that will be the bases of each of the columns. Now it remains to get that router planer set up and plane them down to equal heights.

Only two more to go to have two columns!!!! Gettin' there, for sure!

Next up....."Almost a BooBoo!"

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Fireplace Mantel --- Whaddya Gonna Do??????

Remember my last post? Yeah, that one....the one talking about some level of symmetry? The one that showed two "columns", one of which was a whole lot "skinnier" than the other one? Well, I made a decision to at least try to begin cleaning them up just to see how much rotten "skin" there was to remove on each one.

The fatty was first in line:

Just getting it set up so I could work on it outside was a challenge in, and of, itself. Those little garden carts do have some use after all!

The first thing I had to do was to modify the cart. I'd already set this one up to be able to do small rip cuts with a chainsaw by placing a pallet on the inside rails of the cart and adding some "sides" to the apparatus.

Because the spot I would be working on these pieces wasn't quite level, I thought adding some weight (cinder blocks...can't really see them in this photo, but they're me, they're there) might be appropriate in order to help stabilize the apparatus and keep it in one place. Adding another pallet over the "sides" to get the height just right for working on the piece worked very well, too.

I'm not sure, but I think that root system weighs a TON!

Next step was to start removing the grey matter with my angle grinder and carbide rasp wheel.

More work than expected, but still making progress:

Ok, stand it up to see whether it will actually have a flat enough backside to be able to get it up to the fireplace wall without it tipping forward (Alan and Mendon have small kids, and this thing would squash them flat if it fell on them).

Looking good:

Still looking good from a different angle:

(Editor's Note: The photo above is also the one that got me thinking of going in another direction. The symmetry just wasn't there)

Flat backside still looking good, but, DANG, that charred stuff is daunting!

Truth is, I got disillusioned!

Not only was there more charcoal "stuff" to be removed than I'd bargained for, but the photo below shows just one result of all that "stuff" being thrown every which way by the grinder.

Add the wind into that equation, and, well, you get the picture.

And, that doesn't even take into consideration the caking of charcoal on my clothes! Fortunately, I have a pretty good air compressor I used to blow off most of the charcoal residue before tracking it all over the house in order to take this photo.

The farther I went into that "stuff", the more I realized the core wood was still very good. That, in turn, led me to realize further that the symmetry was going to be "off" if I went with the whole log standing. That, in turn, led me to realize I needed to either find another root system with some symmetry to this one, or I needed to go in another direction.

Whaddya gonna do? WHADDYA GONNA DO?

In discussing this with Katherine, she expressed some concerns about whether or not the "skinnier" of the two columns would even be structurally strong enough to be able to handle the weight of the mantel. She made a very, very good point, for sure.

So, the decision was made to try and do a "Treebeard" type configuration.

This would involve cutting the "fatty" to a much shorter height (with Sampson's help, of course).

And then, finding another root system that had some symmetry comparable to the "fatty", and that could be turned upside down on top of the "fatty" to give it that "Treebeard" look.

This one had promise:

So did this one, but this one also had a LOT more dry rot.

It was then I realized I'd actually need THREE root systems, not just ONE additional system, to make my idea work! Boy, am I ever slow!

Back to the woodpile!

This one looked promising. But, again, a LOT of dry rot.

Rotten into the core.

Breaking off pieces that are cracked all the way through. Had to use a wrecking bar to do it.

Now, THAT one had some serious potential!!

And then there were two....

But now I needed two more:

This is the one I just wasn't too sure about. That dry rot actually goes all the way through the log....

Well, I'm gonna try it anyway. The mark on the log in this photo is the height I needed to get the log down to. I'd already done an eyeball type cut with the chainsaw to level it fairly well on the bottom. Just too tired to make that last cut today.....potential accident waiting to happen, so.....

Gonna stop here with this post. Suffice to say, I did find three more stumps I thought would work.

Next up....Peeling Me Some Pine Stumps!