opposable thumbs

I made a little gift for my friends at the Opposable Thumbs Podcast. They take on a creative challenge every two weeks and then talk about it with some tool recommendations thrown in. I’m enjoying it a lot. I’m particularly fond of their code of conduct because it aims to create an inclusive space, which can be hard to do among geeky people who enjoy talking about obscure subjects. I’m copying it here for future reference:

Our podcast is dedicated to providing a harassment-free experience for everyone, regardless of race, gender, age, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, knowledge of presented subject matter, or religion (or lack thereof). We do not tolerate harassment in any form. Our overall belief is that mutual respect and voices from all walks of life must be heard to create a balanced society. We want our community to be more diverse…whatever your background, we welcome you. We actively support an inclusive environment, and we want you to be a part of it.

Although I wasn’t trying to join their first challenge (paper clips and and 2×4 lumber) this thing sort of came out while tinkering aimlessly at my desk. I had improvised the shape out of a scrap on my bandsaw while trying out the technique that Jimmy Diresta uses in this video (similar to the well know bandsaw reindeer that Matthias Wandel takes to the next level here) and it seemed like a nice way to hold a hand-cranked contraption while being vaguely thumb shaped. I’ve been trying to make paper clip gears with various degrees of success since I saw this video of Arthur Ganson making wire gears and I made one for this project but it didn’t quite fit the way I wanted, and it wasn’t perfectly centered, so settled with the offset orbiting hands design.

My failed paper clip gear.

Give the Opposable Thumbs a listen and do let me know if there are any other similar podcasts I should be listening to.


One year of Melt-thology

I have a ritual with my friend Joe Linton. On the third Tuesday of (almost) every month we ride our bikes to Meltdown comics and draw together at the Melt-thology comix jam. A big part of the appeal for me is to hang out with Joe and talk about comics and life, but it is also a good opportunity to draw in a different environment. Occasionally Joe will bring his daughter Maeve (aka Super Maeve) and it’s great to watch them collaborate on a comic.

It’s a very friendly set up and at the end the artwork is collected with $3 for printing costs and you get a zine the following month with a collection of everyone’s contributions. It goes from 7:00 pm to 9:30 pm which sounds like a lot of time to complete one page but I’ve been surprised more than once, this stuff takes time.

If you are in the L.A area I would encourage you to go. The venue is the legendary Meltdown Comics and it is a fun way to meet other artists and share some of your work. Find more info on the Melt-thology facebook page or Instagram.

My melt-thology zine collection so far.

I feel like my submissions have been a mixed bag. Sometimes I try to do a mini-comic and sometimes I go for a simple illustration. I like the two hour restriction because it forces me to finish something quick, so I concentrate more on the overall effect rather than getting caught in the details. Here is a collection of all the ones I’ve submitted so far in order of appearance, also notice I got to do the cover for #19.

melt-thology #13
melt-thology #16
melt-thology #17
melt-thology #18
melt-thology #19
melt-thology #20
melt-thology #21
melt-thology #22
melt-thology #23
melt-thology #24
melt-thology #25
melt-thology #26
melt-thology #27
melt-thology #29

diy belt sander

In my last post I documented my budget bandsaw repair. This one is about documenting a little belt sander I built with mostly found parts. There are tons of home made belt sander builds on the internet and I don’t feel like I’m adding anything new, but I still wanted to put it out there, maybe I will inspire your own build.

I tried to keep it as simple as possible and the most obvious consequence of doing that is that it’s not particularly pretty. But it works and I made it with minimal parts and expense.

This sander uses a 1″ by 30″ belt. That means the belt is 1″ (inch) wide and has a 30″ circumference. It’s useful for sanding small parts and inside corners. It’s also very easy to change the belts in case you want to use different grits. It’s also particularly nice for sharpening knives and other tools.

The starting point was this 1/2 hp motor from a pump that a friend was getting rid of:

My first step was to drill and tap the axle:

Here I’m starting the tap with the drill press to keep it straight:

And then finish it with the hand holder:

I used a 1/4″ – 20 bolt but in retrospective I think something thicker would be better.

The next step was to cut and glue a couple of plywood circles:

And mount them to the motor:

This is after some turning and sanding. I secured the motor to the table and used a chisel against the 2×4 improvised tool rest to turn the piece and give it a crown:

Not bad:

After that I started working on the idler pulley. I had a skateboard wheel, I secured it with a bolt and some washers:

And mounted it on the drill press:

I did the rough shaping with this rasp:

Finished it and crowned it with this set up. The Blade is secured to the 2×4 with a screw. The 2×4 is clamped to the drill press table. This allows for fine control of the turning.

Detail. This blade is really thin but it did the job. I think if i were to do it again I would use a thicker utility blade.

The next step was the structure. I started by making a sleeve for the metal post:

Then I positioned this door hinge on top of the sleeve

And trimmed the excess metal:

After that I added the tension adjustment bolt. In this picture I’m setting it up to weld the nut in place:

The tension adjustment bolt needs to rest on a flat surface so I added this piece to the main post:

This is the main post after welding the base:

And it comes together when bolted the the plywood base:

After I made sure everything was working I took it apart and painted the metal parts and made some wood knobs. The top knob adjusts the tension and the side knob tilts the wheel to adjust the tracking.

Added some 3/4″ plywood for the front and the table:

In order to mount the switch I hogged out a pocket with a router bit mounted on the the drill press. Not super clean but it does the job:

The switch. Wired and protected with shrink-wrap tubing:

Here you can see the switch from the front and other final details. That knob in the front threads onto the table to secure it in place. I wanted to be able to remove it easily for changing the belt and cleaning.

And here is a closeup of the backing plate. I found an aluminum l-bracket and cut it to size:

And it’s done. I finished it with shellac. I love the feeling of making your own tools (almost) from scratch. I mean, if I were to buy a $70 belt sander I wouldn’t put it on my resume.

Budget bandsaw repair

The “workshop” part of the wolfCat workshop name means a few things to me. One, it is a hope: I aspire to build that ideal workshop, my ideal workshop. For years I’ve made do with whatever is at hand: empty balconies, borrowed kitchen tables, benches in forgotten places, corners in someone else’s garage. I’ve also worked in very nice workshops with really clever people. I love workshops and I love making. My current situation is not that bad. I share a one car garage with a group of folks. We have a few nice tools and as shared spaces go this one is pretty organized.

For a while now I wanted a bigger bandsaw and had been looking online for used deals. I had also been considering building one following Matthias Wandel’s plans. As it happened this ended up being something in between. A little disclaimer: I posted a short version of this build on imgur.
I happened to find this bandsaw listed for $70 USD with some crappy pictures. I texted the seller to ask if it was still available and he told me someone had stolen the table and I could have it for $30. I figured I could make a table and said I’d pick it up. When I got there the top wheel and the tension mechanism where missing too. I took it for $25 since I was there already. Worst case scenario, I thought,  I could use the motor for another project.

The finished project

I didn’t document the building of the tension mechanism but this is what I came up with. A 1/4″ plate with some 1/2″ – 13 bolts and nuts. The tilt adjustment is a solid rod I tapped with a 1/4″ – 20 screw.

Then I added the clamp for adjusting the tension. Here it is seen from both sides:

Attentive bandsaw users might notice I’m not using a spring. I just didn’t have one strong enough and I wasn’t about to go buy one. I decided to just try it and add one later if necessary.

Next I started building the wheel. I took a lot from watching Matthias Wandel’s bandsaw builds on youtube so if you are looking to do something similar I can’t recommend him enough. Check out his build at http://woodgears.ca/bandsaw/homemade.html

I started by cutting two 14.25″circles (the final wheel needed to be 14″) with this simple circle cutting jig out of some 3/4″ birch plywood:

Then some holes. Mostly convenient for clamping (next step) and for rotating the wheel with your hand when adjusting the blade:

Gluing the two circles. Is it possible to ever have too many clamps?:

The next step was to make some bearing holders. That sketchy looking circle cutting tool is very convenient if you want to cut really precise circles. I took about 4 attempts until I found the right size. The bearings are press fit on the wood so a very tight fit is important.

Mounting the bearing by pressing it with the vise:

And this is how I made the axle. I call it the poor man’s lathe. 1/2″ bolt mounted on the drill press and the angle grinder with a flap disk to shape the nuts.

Making sparks:

Halfway there:

Checking the fit:

The final result. I think I had to shape the outside nut a bit more later on but you get the idea. I’m not so sure that this 1/2″ bolt is going to last though. I’m expecting it to bend a little. Perhaps I’m going to have to get a real solid axle a few months from now.

Once I had the axle I was able to mount the wheel to the table. The screw mounted to the wood block is for truing the wheel. There are two bearings. One of either side of the wheel. You glue one first, then you assemble the whole thing and position the second one making sure the wheel doesn’t wobble. If you want a better explanation see how Matthias does it in this video https://youtu.be/eEB0fM-71T8?t=6m30s

And this is how I turned the wheel. Another sort of poor man’s lathe. I made a “tire” with inner tubes around the drill chuck. A spring holds it tight against the wheel. The 2×4 on the opposite side is screwed on the table and that is the tool rest. I rounded and crowned the wheel using a couple of woodworking chisels. Side note: in the gif it looks like the wheel is spinning counter-clockwise. But it was actually spinning clockwise:

Once the wheel was rounded and crowned (incidentally this video on how crowned pulleys work is pretty good) I balanced it by drilling holes where it was heavier.

And a final coat of shellac to make it last:

A 10″ bicycle wheel inner tube is the tire. Another one of Matthias’ brilliant ideas:

The top blade guides were missing too so I made a new set with some plywood and walnut. This was the hardest wood I had lying around, we’ll see how long it lasts. Someone on reddit suggested dipping the guides in hot wax for lubrication. I’ll be trying that soon.

Top blade guide installed on the saw:

The table trunnions are based on a circle with 2″ radius:

This started as a quick prototype out of plywood scrap and ended up being the final one. You know how it goes:

The trunnion assembly:

I shaped the washer so it would rest flush on the round trunnion:

Filed a square hole for the carriage bolt:

And this is how they look on a temporary table I made out of crappy pallet plywood:

I made the final table out of 3/4″ birch plywood. Here it is with the jig I made to cut the insert pocket with the router:

The pocket is 1/4″ deep for using 1/4″ plywood inserts. I had to make the round corners into square corners with a chisel:

Then I made the miter slot using the table router:

Mounted after a few coats of shellack.:

After cutting the slit that allows you to replace the blade I added this extra piece of wood that keeps the table flat. It swivels out:

And it’s held underneath by this knob. You can make some neat knobs once you have a semi functional bandsaw:

I thought the switch was in a very awkward place so I decided to rewire it:

After a trip to the Home Despot. That part to the left is a strut clamp, you can find them in the electrical section:

Very convenient that strut clamp:

New switch position:

I felt I needed a switch fence to avoid starting the bandsaw unintentionally:

More shellack:

You know. Going for that metal + wood look:

The last touch was adding a light:

I had one of these IKEA JANSJÖ LED work lamps and after taking off the base I mounted it to a piece of plywood and clamped it to the bandsaw arm. I might make something nicer in the future but this works ok for now:

After using the light for a bit I got tired of switching it on and off so I added this outlet under the base. Now the main switch turns the motor on AND also the left side of the outlet where I plugged in the IKEA light. I figured the outlet would be convenient if I wanted to add dust extraction in the future:

Cat Tax:

I hope my budget bandsaw build was interesting to you. I just love bandsaws and this one has become one of the most used tools in our garage.

Warm Heart Automata

A little story about how not to steal like an artist first. Sometimes I seek inspiration in social media. One day I found this awesome illustration by Instagram user @you_just_illusion and decided to use it as the base for this drawing. I sincerely though I had made it different enough and imbued it with my own style but that’s not how he felt and he let me know in a polite direct message. I apologized and we agreed that a shout out to his work would be enough atonement.

I think sometimes there is a fine line between inspiration and copying and it seems like I crossed the line in this case. I wasn’t trying to be malicious but sometimes this happens. Originality is not very important to me. I subscribe to the “Everything is a remix” idea. And almost everything I do came out from somewhere else. Sometimes the influences get lost, mixed with the others. And sometimes you make the wrong judgement about how far you actually mixed something. In this case no one got seriously hurt and we had a good interaction. And I’m also satisfied with how this piece turned out.

The first version I drew was for a zine project I was working on, which you can see in the background here:


I’m on a quest to unite my visual output with my maker spirit. Making drawings that move seems like a great way to do that. I started by cutting the outlines out of 1/4 in plywood and attaching the flames to a couple of dowels.

My initial idea was a simple crank and some wavy motion but I wasn’t entirely sure about how the mechanism was going to work, so I made a prototype out of scrap wood and wire:

And here is what the final version looks like with the two cranks:

After I had the mechanism figured out I moved onto painting. I started with a few coats of white acrylic ink. I sanded that with 600 grit sandpaper to get a nice even surface and applied a coat of workable fixative. The fixative helps with bleeding. I applied the black ink with a brush and and quill for the fine details.

warm_heart_progressI like how you can still see the grain of the wood on the white areas.

Before the final assembly I coated the main surface of the box with superglue. It acts as a hard clean finish. The other parts were coated with a matte finish. The moving sections were lubricated with bee’s wax. I made the handle out of some ebony scavenged from the keys of and old piano a friend found in the street.

One final detail is the wall mount. This system with two matching pieces of wood cut at a 45 degree angle is called a “french cleat”. The screw on the side is for added stability when using the crank.


Artist Trading Cards for Reddit

I signed up for an artist trading card exchange on Reddit (at /r/ArtistSpeakEasy if you are curious). I like artist trading cards (ATC’s) because you can finish them fast and move on. Little 2.5″ by 3.5″ experiments. I’ve never actually traded them but I still like the idea.

For this batch I made a little card holder which you can see in action here.

I love receiving things on the mail and I wanted to create a nice experience for those who got one of these cards.

green with sadness

{green with sadness}
I was sad and worried because our cat was sick. This is what came out.

This was the second piece I made on a block of wood using the CNC to create the pockets and frame outline (the process is documented with more detail with the red cat series). It is also a character I drew first in 2012. Somehow I use it to process sadness.


fire snake

This is the first piece I made on a block of wood using the CNC to create the pockets and frame outline (the process is documented with more detail with the red cat series).

Incidentally the size was an accident. I drew a bigger version but when I opened the SVG file in jscut I forgot to specify the proper pixels per inch ratio. I liked the final result so I went with it. Happy accident.