Various Ways to Cut Lumber

I still remember 7th grade wood shop where my shop teacher explained to us how to use a hand saw.  I know most kids (myself included I’m ashamed to admit) thought it was a waste of time when there where power tools (insert grunt like Tim Allen) that could be used.  Now that I am a lot older and at least a little wiser I see the reason we were introduced to cutting wood with a hand saw.  Hand sawing gives you a feel for the wood, you get feedback through a hand tool that is hard to get from a power tool.  You learn how some woods are harder than others and that grain makes a huge difference when cutting wood.

The problem for new woodworkers is good quality hand saws are hard to find now and are expensive.  A beginner is also unable to sharpen a saw, which is required for it to work well.  If you ever find an old style wood worker that has some hand saws he uses, ask to just cut some boards with them.  This will improve your understanding of wood.  Since this blog is focused on what you can actually do, affordably with easy to find items, lets talk about what you should buy to cut wood.

Circular or Skill Saw
This is where I think you should start your purchasing and learning on how to cut wood.  Plan on spending $75-$100 for a saw another $20-$30 for a fine tooth blade.  If you are doing rough construction then the carbide tipped blade that comes with the saw will work, however if you are doing any kind of cuts that people will see you need a blade with a lot more teeth.  With different blades a circular saw can cut some metals, cement board and other things.  It may be slow going on these other materials, but if you only have a few cuts then it will be the easiest/cheapest way to go.  I also like the laser that is available on many models now, this will help you in making free hand cuts.

Jig or Saber Saw
For cutting any kind of curves you will need a jig saw.  You have to think about what kind of projects you plan on doing to decide if you need a jig saw rather than a circular saw.  If you plan it smaller items with decorative, curved edges than a jig saw might be right for your first saw purchase.

Hand Saws
An inexpensive hand saw will be useful as well and these can be had for under $20.  A circular saw cannot cut an inside corner so you need another type of saw to finish it.  I have a Japanese style pull saw like this.  This has both a rip and crosscut set of teeth and I frequently use it where the circular saw will not reach even though I have a jig saw that would make the cut.

Saw Horses
You need something to put your wood on to cut it.  A couple of saw horses is a good way to start.  I have a pair of Black & Decker WM125 Workmate 125 350-Pound Capacity Portable Work Bench that I use but will be reviewing other options in the future.

Basic Understanding of Electrical House Wiring

Most if not all of us have our houses wired for electricity and with some basic understanding it can remove some of the mystery that surrounds it.  This write-up will be focused on how things are done in the US.  The principles will transfer to other countries, but the details will be different.  Also it is important to note this is not enough information to qualify you to start poking around in the electrical circuits in your house.

In the united states residential electrical service brings 240 volts to the house with the capacity of somewhere between 100 to 400 amps.  Think of voltage as the pressure and amps (also called current) as the amount of electricity.  This service is connected to a distribution panel that has circuit breakers that provide electricity to all the circuits in the house.  Most of these circuits are 15 amps and 120 volts.  Kitchens and bathrooms will have 20 amp, 120 volt circuits due to the fact that they usually have devices that draw more current like blow driers, curling irons, toasters and microwaves.  High power devices like electric ranges and electric clothes driers require dedicated circuits of 240 volts.

The service coming into the house has two legs and a common.  The voltage between the two legs is 240 volts and between either leg and the common is 120 volts.  Your service panel will split this 240 volts between two sides of 120 volts each.  If you need 240 volts the circuit breaker will bridge between both sides to get 240 volts.  A good electrician will try to balance the loads between these two sides, you should never see most of the breakers on one side of the service.

The way a house is wired the “common” or “neutral” is the white wire and it should never be run through a switch.  It is electrically the same as the ground wire.  If you open up your service panel you will see all the white wires and bare wire attached to a common bus (usually a copper bar with screw terminals).  The bare wire braid coming into the house will also be attached to this.

Each circuit is a black wire and it is attached to a circuit breaker that limits the amount of current that can flow into the wire.  The gauge of the wire (how thick it is) determines how much current it can safely handle and if it is exceeded the breaker trips and shuts off the circuit.  This can happen if you turn on too many thing on the same circuit or if some kind of fault happens in the wiring.  If the breaker doesn’t protect the circuit the wiring could overheat and cause a fire.

Further anyplace there is the chance of water being near the plug you will need to have the circuit going through a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupt (GFCI).  This will either be the first plug-in the circuit in the wet area (which will protect all the plugs that come after it) or the breaker itself can have the GFCI protection.  This device monitors the current flowing on each side of the circuit and if there is a difference it will trip and cut off the electricity.  This fault conditions occurs when the electricity finds another path to ground, which is almost universally bad and this device protects you from a getting a shock.

The standard convention in the us is that 14 gauge wire that handles 15 amps is in a white sheath of insulation, yellow if for 20 amp circuits and orange is for 30 amp circuits.  You will see this wire denoted as:

  • 14-2 which is 14 gauge wire with 2 insulated wires(colored white and black) and a bare ground wire.
  • 14-3 which is 14 gauge wire with 3 insulated wires (colored white, black and red) and a bare ground wire.  This is used for 3 and 4 way switched circuits.
  • 12-2 which is same as 14-2 except the wire is thicker 12 gauge.
  • And so on

Note that electricity can kill you and this is intended for information purposes only.  You need to know a lot more that is described here before you start messing around with the electrical circuits in your house.

An Introduction to the Art of Hand Filing

With the availability of cheap grinders these days few are learning how to do “bright work” or hand filing.  If you have a lot of metal to remove than by all means use, to quote Tim the Tool-Man Taylor, “More Power”.  But this is usually only needed during fabrication or major alteration of a piece of metal. In times past metal was expensive and the stock removal method of making things out of metal was avoided when ever possible.  So a good blacksmith or metal fabricator would shape the metal very close to the finished shape, the better the smith the less filing needed to be done.

No mater how good the smith all edged tools needed finish work with a file.  Even today you would be surprised how much better your lawn and garden tools work when sharpened.  While a right angle grinder will remove a lot of metal in a hurry, if you just need to clean up an edge why don’t you give a file a chance.  Also many people don’t know this but a putty knife is supposed to have a square edge on it and a minute or two with a file will bring this edge back and it will scrape much better.

I recommend you start with buying regular hand or flat files that are about 8″-12″ long and get both a fine and coarse.  Don’t confuse a metal file with a wood rasp.  A wood rasp will have even wider spacing between the teeth and is used for shaping wood and other soft materials, not metal.  Traditionally files are sold with what looks like a metal spike sticking out one end.  This is called a tang and make sure you buy a file handle to go over this tang if it doesn’t come with one.  Trying to use a file without a handle is a good way to impale the fleshy part of your palm, our goal is to avoid blood on our tools.

Just as important as the file is also getting a file card, which looks like a flat brush with metal bristles on one side and sometimes some kind of softer fiber on the other.  This is used to clean the teeth of when they build up with material.  A file with clogged teeth will not cut at all, leading to much frustration.

A file needs to be stored like any other edged tool.  If they are just thrown into a drawer not only can they damage other things in the drawer (files are very hard) if they bang against each other they can be dulled.  Also a file should only be in contact with the metal on the forward, cutting stroke.  You do not saw it back and forth like a wood saw, which will dull your file as well and a dull file does not cut very well.

Introduction To The Circular Saw

As you start to build your woodworking skills I recommend starting with the circular saw.  It is the first saw you should buy and will take you a long way toward learning basic woodworking.  It does has some limitations such as not able to cut an inside corner or rip narrow boards, but for general straight line cutting it is possibly the best power tool available.

When you go to buy look for something in the $75-$100 range.  If you are building houses for a living you will want something at a higher price point, but if you use a saw that much you wont be reading this post. When you are picking out a saw check that the blade doesn’t have side-to-side play and I prefer to have a laser on it as it helps free-hand cuts.  The adjustment you use the most is the depth of the blade, so make sure that it is something you find easy to use.

The standard size saw and one you should buy is 7 1/4″, which is the blade size.  The saw will likely come with a blade that will work fine cutting 2×4 type of lumber for rough construction, but plan on buying a 40 tooth blade for about $20 to go with it.  This blade will let you make fairly smooth cuts in both lumber and plywood.

If you are planing on building plywood projects you should also consider some kind of fence.  A fence is something that guides the saw and helps you make straight cuts.  When breaking down 4′ x 8′ sheet goods you need to make a lot of long straight cuts and a fence really helps.  You can buy a fence that is usually an aluminium track that is about 9′ long and can be split into two pieces so you can cut either across the 4′ or 8′ length.  You can also make your own.  A speed square, drywall square and chalk line are also helpful in laying out your cuts.

Where Should A Wood Stove Chimney Go?

Wood StoveMany times you have little choice where to put your wood stove and chimney.  However there are some things you should consider that will make the chimney draw better and provide the most heat to your house.

Many times I see the chimney come out the side of a house and go up the outside.  This should be considered your last option.  The best option is up through the middle of your house.  The chimney can then radiate heat into the house all the way up.  Since the chimney has to be higher than anything else near it that means you cannot just stop soon after going through an outside wall.  If you are going to pay for all that vertical pipe, you might as well have it warming your house rather than the outside.

In my situation any wood burning had to be done in the basement, my wife was not going to allow it in the living room of the house.  My house is a Cape Cod style with a center great room that is open to the peak, about 25′ from floor to center peak.  I put my wood stove in the walk-out basement only about 2′ off the center of the ridge line of the house and 1/3 of the way from the gable end of the house.  This gave me a stainless steel pipe (insulated for fire safety) that was about 30′ high and 6′ of stove-pipe in the basement connecting to the stove.  When that thing gets heated up it has so much draw with the wood stove door open it roars.

While there is a considerable time lag of a more than an hour between when I start a fire and the main living area warms up, I have no problem heating the whole house just with the wood stove in the basement.  I don’t even need to run fans to try to transfer the heat up from the basement.  Some things I think that are working to my favor is that most of the house has hardwood floors which do a better job of transferring heat than carpet and the chimney radiating heat into the main part of the house.  Further my house is built out of Structural Insulated Panels so it is very well insulated and has no drafts.

I feel this turned out very well in my case.  I did my research before hand and am pleased with how well it turned out.  Carefully consider where you install your chimney.  While you can always swap out your wood stove if you don’t like it, you will find it expensive and hard to move your chimney.

Thoughts On Becoming A Renaissance Man or Woman

The term “Renaissance Man” has come to mean “a present-day man who has acquired profound knowledge or proficiency in more than one field”.  The goal of Save Our Skills is to produce more Renaissance Men.  To do this we will be producing instructional content as well as linking to good information from other sources, we can’t all be experts.

However we do feel that having as broad a range of knowledge as possible is a good thing.  Even knowing just the very basics of something will help when you do need to have someone else do something for you.  You will be better able to describe what you want done, will have a better idea of what a fair price is and will be less likely to be taken advantage of.

Save Our Skills will not just focus on primitive skills, but will also cover many of the things that used to be taught in Shop Class and Home Economics, not to mention what grandparents and parents used to teach their children.

Considering the world we not live in we will also be covering skills related to modern-day life.  Things related to computers, the internet, online security and digital photography will be covered under the category Digital Skills.

Even if you never become proficient at a skill, at least learn about as many things as you can.  Skills are an asset that can not be taken away from you or taxed and will pay dividends for the rest of your life.

So please subscribe to this blog and either begin or continue learning more skills in your life.

Re-purposing a riding mower as a mini homestead tractor

If you are like me you have the need to move things around your property.  I’m surprised how frequently I find myself jumping on this striped down ridding mower.  We picked this up for a song because it had some problems with the mower deck.  After we determined the mower deck problems were beyond worth fixing we decided to just use it to pull things around.

First I stripped off everything I could connected with mowing.  Since the back tires had trouble holding air they were replaced with something with more traction.  The little trailer was found on Craig’s List and will dump and has a removable tailgate.  I must admit that due to the fact we have so little money into it I just leave it outside where I’m using it and just tip up the seat.  I know I should cover it up but I don’t.

Things to look for are a mower that starts and runs well, unless you want to take on fixing the engine as well.  Bad tires and bad mower deck are good as it will bring down the price.  You are going to want to strip off all the mowing related stuff and put on different tires anyway.  This model I have has the type of drive train that pressing the pedal further makes it go faster by changing the size of the pulleys in the drive train.  A hydro-static transmission would also be good, but those are harder to fix.  If all you can find is one that you have to shift the gears that would be OK, but look for one that does the speed control by just pushing the pedal.  You do want good brakes as well since you will be using it to hauls stuff around and if you have any hills no brakes can be bad.

I have a fairly steep incline in one area and this has no problem having enough power to go up it.  However sometimes I lose traction and frequently the front wheels are too light to steer well.  I’m thinking of adding fluid to the tires or at least some weight in the front.  I find moving firewood, feed and mulch this is a nice setup to use.  I’ve also used it to move my skid-able chicken coop around.

This can be a low-cost way to have a powered method of moving things around your property and gives you a chance to learn some repair skills.  DR also sells what they call a Powerwagon which is like a small flatbed powered by a gas engine.  From time to time they pop up on Craigslist but usually they cost a lot more and you don’t see very many of them.

Looking around for something used that can be re-purposed to fit your needs can be a good way to learn something and save some money.