Jan 10, 2011

Woodworking blog Woodworking Magazine - 'Easy Wood Tools' Do Make Turning Easier

It is a darn good thing that Craig Jackson didn't need any footwear during one fateful shopping trip in 2001.

Jackson and his wife, Donna, had driven to Evansville, Ind., from their home in Owensboro, Ky., that day so Donna could go shopping for shoes.

"I didn't need any dang shoes," Jackson says with a smile. "So I stumbled into a Woodcraft store and started looking around."

Jackson was in need of a hobby that kept him close to home. His job ended in the early afternoon and he was spending a lot of time playing golf, which was keeping him away from the house. When he was walking around the Woodcraft, several puzzle pieces fell into place. He saw a book on segmented turning, which fascinated him. That made him think about the unused workshop space at his home.

And as a machinist with 62,000 hours of experience, he thought: "It's wood. How hard could it be? You get it close and then hit it with a hammer!" (He now admits that his attitude was hubris.)

That visit to a Woodcraft resulted in Jackson becoming a passionate turner and then turning his experience with metallurgy and machining to develop a new sort of woodworking tool that has quickly become popular with beginning and veteran turners.
Craig Jackson, left, and an employee look over a recent batch of tools.
The Easy Wood turning tools have small replaceable carbide inserts that do the cutting. The inserts are made using custom grades of carbide with very particular bevel angles. And the rest of the tool is also carefully designed. The metal part that holds the carbide insert is stainless steel that has had every single surface machined and polished. The handles are maple (for the most part) with a shape that is patent pending and available in four lengths depending on the scale of the project at hand.

But what is most unique about the Easy Wood tools is that they are all used in the same and simple manner. Instead of rubbing the bevel of the tool against the work and twisting and sweeping the edge to fine-tune the cut, the Easy Wood tools use one cutting motion only. Here it is. Master this and you've mastered the tool.

1. Hold the tool flat against your lathe's tool rest with your thumb pressed firmly against the top of the turning tool.

2. With your other hand, lightly cradle the tool so the handle is parallel to the floor. Press the handle against your body to keep the tool parallel to the floor.

3. Move the tool forward and back to make the cut.
The Easy Wood tools have only three different profiles: a straight cutter for roughing work, a round cutter for finishing work and a diamond-shaped cutter for making fine details and sharp corners. With these three tools you can make virtually any shape in bowl or spindle work.

Jackson developed these tools after becoming frustrated with the complexity of traditional tools and the the amount of sharpening required. To demonstrate, he held up two walnut bowls that are on display in the lobby of his factory in an industrial park in Lexington, Ky.

"I could not make a complete pass across the diameter of these bowls without resharpening," he says. "So I looked and looked and looked for a solution to this problem. I found improvements, but not a solution."

While Jackson says he has an immense respect for traditional turning tools and the skill required to wield them, he wanted to make tools that were simple to understand and use and didn't require an investment in sharpening equipment.

He was aware of other woodworking tools that used carbide cutters, but he didn't think they used the right grade of carbide, the correct grinding and the best edge geometry for turning.

So he put his knowledge of carbide as a machinist to bear on the problem and developed some new grades of carbide – at Rockwell 93 to 94 on the "C" scale – for his tools. Jackson made some tools for his own use and put a video of them up on YouTube in January 2008.

"The calls started rolling in," he says.

Jackson thought he might have a winner. But before he decided to go into production, he sought the opinion of turner Nick Cook and other turners for their opinion of the tools.

"I told Nick Cook I would give him $150 to try this tool out and tell me what he thought of it," Jackson says. "Nick said I didn't have to pay him, and he liked it."

With Cook's support Jackson's tools were picked up by Craft Supplies USA with a one-year exclusive deal. The tools sold well, and after the deal expired, Jackson was approached by Woodcraft, Lee Valley Tools, Hartville Tool and other woodworking suppliers.

Sales took off, despite the fact that the Easy Wood Tools are more expensive than typical turning tools. His tools are made entirely in the United States – even the CNC equipment Jackson uses in his factory is made in the United States. And Jackson, with a small team of employees, set up shop in Lexington and has been kicking production into high gear.

In 2009 the company doubled its sales. In 2010 sales tripled. And Jackson has high hopes for 2011.

It was a big risk for Jackson and his wife, Donna, who handles customer service, accounting and marketing for the company. Jackson gave up his stable, steady and successful career with Swedish Match (a very large tobacco company) to start Easy Wood.
The shop floor at Easy Wood Tools.
"Do you follow your dream or do you do you take the nice cozy?" Jackson asked. "Donna and I concluded that if we lost it all we'd be left holding hands on the street corner."

Lucky for Donna and Craig, acceptance for their non-traditional tool design has been surprisingly strong (even Jackson says he's surprised).

Personally, I have struggled for the last five years with turning chair spindles and furniture parts using traditional tools. I'm no slouch when it comes to sharpening, and I understand cutting action pretty well thanks to my experience with hand tools.

But I've always felt like a slacker at the lathe. I can turn out the shapes that I want, but it takes me a long time to get warmed up and locate that inkling of muscle memory left over from my last turning session.

Today I spent about 15 minutes turning with the Easy Wood Tools and was absolutely delighted. After a 30-second coaching job from Jackson, I started hollowing out a bowl. It was ridiculously easy. So I bought a set of the full-size tools plus extra carbide cutters, threw them into the trunk of my car and headed home.

I have a lot of plans for projects in 2011 that involve turned components, including the feet to a 17th-century bookcase and several Welsh stick chairs. And I am itching to turn some treenware for the next time my friends and I get together to drink some beer.

For me, the Easy Wood Tools remove several barriers to getting down to the fun part – working with wood. For one, I don't have to worry much about the profiles on the tools and if I own the right tools – three Easy Wood tools handle most operations. And I don't have to fuss with sharpening. Though I'm a good sharpener (and not a braggart about it, really), I don't like sharpening as much as I like woodworking. When an edge dulls after 20 or so hours of use on the Easy Wood Tools, I'll simply rotate the carbide insert to expose a fresh and sharp edge – it's just like the carbide teeth on our powered planer and joiner. And I am thankful for those machines every day I use them.

And Jackson is also thankful. Not for his luck or ingenuity, but for his customers and the employees who have pushed Easy Wood forward.

"Our customers inspire us," Jackson says. "We have e-mails from paraplegics who can use our tools. Blind customers. How cool is that? It's one thing to pay the bills. It's another thing to do this and sleep well at night. I sleep like a baby."

— Christopher Schwarz

• You can order Easy Wood tools directly from the Lexington, Ky., company at easywoodtools.com.

• Speaking of turning, we have a new classic reprint book "Elementary Turning" that has dozens of great exercises for the beginning turner -- a book from my personal collection. You can order this book from our store here.

I have 3  'Easy Wood Tools' and the carbide tips eliminant the need to ever sharpen them!  Love them... Monte

High Food Prices Threaten Growth of Energy Crops in Britain - NYTimes.com

A field of miscanthus, or "Elephant Grass" in southeast England.

January 9, 2011

LONDON — Record high world food prices threaten to limit the use of land for low-carbon energy crops just as British efforts to pioneer growth of the giant grass miscanthus in Europe are poised to gather pace.

Miscanthus giganteus is an Asian elephant grass that grows 3 meters, or 10 feet, high and whose tawny leaves are now at their tallest, before harvest time next month. The grass is being promoted alongside willow, sawdust and straw as biomass for producing heat and power when burned, without causing net emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

Burning biomass returns to the atmosphere the same carbon dioxide that the plants took in when they were growing and so can cut net emissions compared with fossil fuels.

Miscanthus needs little or no manufactured fertilizer and is harvested annually over a 15- to 20-year period.

“It is a beast of a crop,” said one former grower, Ross Dickinson, based in the southwest of England, referring to its prolific output. “After establishment, apart from cutting it down and baling it, there are no input costs.”

In the future, miscanthus may also be a critical feedstock for a new generation of liquid transport fuels made from nonfood crops.

Britain is leading trials of the crop in Europe, with harvests growing more than tenfold in the past five years to an area twice the size of Manhattan Island in New York, government data show. That could expand more quickly as the country tries to meet ambitious E.U. targets for renewable energy.

“I applaud it,” said Peter Harper, head of research and innovation at the Center for Alternative Technology in Wales, although adding that achievements so far are still limited.

“It’s a drop in the ocean of what we need,” he said. “We need experience.”

Britain told the Union last year that it had a “theoretical potential” to plant 7,000 square kilometers, or 2,700 square miles, of miscanthus and other woody crops by 2020, about 4 percent of the country’s farmed area, to help meet its clean energy goals.

Also driving adoption in Europe are rising penalties on the emissions of carbon dioxide from burning of fossil fuels. All power generators in Western Europe will have to buy a permit for every ton of carbon dioxide emissions beginning in 2013.

“We’re looking to see how we can increase the amount of biomass that we burn,” said Rob Wood, buyer at the Drax coal plant, which is the biggest carbon emitter in Britain.

Mr. Wood said that since the summer of 2009, the plant had entered into contracts with at least 100 growers within a 100-mile radius of the Drax power station for the supply of miscanthus.

Drax has the world’s biggest coal and biomass co-burning facility, which is able to use 1.4 million tons a year of plant material to drive a steam turbine and generate electricity.

Britain is promoting energy crops under a program to meet a binding E.U. commitment to get 15 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, compared with about 3 percent now.

Growth may be limited by concerns that the project will compete with food crops, however, especially as Britain has limited land.

Last month, the global food price index charted by the United Nations reached record levels, and the use of crops to produce energy has raised questions over competition for land. The U.N. food price agency said last week that main prices for grain could climb yet further as weather patterns gave cause for concern.

Drax said it would not sign contracts with farmers who were planning to convert from cereals like wheat and added that miscanthus was unlikely to be economic on high-grade land, given the elevated prices for grain.

“Landowners in more densely populated centers will inevitably find more profitable uses for their land,” said Peter Sharratt, at the consulting firm WSP Environment & Energy.

“This makes biomass far less viable and raises some serious sustainability issues as we displace local food production in favor of energy cropping or create a new dependency on large-scale biomass imports.”

WSP calculated that planting energy crops on a fifth of Britain’s arable land would meet just 10 percent of the British heating demand.

Similar concerns have been long expressed over the huge market in transport biofuels, produced from food crops including corn, sugar and oilseed. About 40 percent of the U.S. corn crop is currently used to make ethanol to power cars.

Experts said new British planting of miscanthus was disappointing last year, reflecting poor awareness among farmers, while the big British producer Bical went bankrupt in 2009, partly because of unpredictable government support.

Better promotion among farmers is needed, said Mike Cooper, commercial manager at Renewable Energy Crops, which has contracts with about 400 British farmers to grow miscanthus.

“If government only said that they needed perennial energy crops. Farmers understand that there’s a demand for food, but no one’s making plain that there’s a demand for energy crops.”

Gerald Wynn is a Reuters correspondent.

Jan 9, 2011

Making Oak Table Leg Spindles - Hines Farm - Mini Max T124 Duplicating Lathe

We designed and turned template spindle table leg (bottom), sanded, and  bee wax coated it.  We now are making duplicative copies for oak table legs. We can make repair / replacement spindles for about anything that requires it, also. Love that lathe! ... Monte

YouTube - Quartersawing a large red oak on our WoodMizer Sawmill at Timbergreen Farm = HD

A simple method of quartersawing that minimizes the handling of heavy cants while producing excellent quality quartersawn lumber