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Dear Diary–What I did today: sanded

Posted by joeabbott on January 19, 2014

Yesterday I sanded. And sanded and sanded and sanded.

Not a day of pride, but one of a lot of sawdust.

imageI started the day by waiting the chill morning air to leave and, when it didn’t, I tossed on another layer of clothing and headed into the garage regardless. Yesterday I had purchased a Rigid model belt sander. It was an entry model with online reviews claiming it would be the only tool you’d need to sand down hardwoods, to others saying it was underpowered junk. I needed it to help smooth down the bottom of the cabinet, which seemed the role an entry level underpowered piece of junk should be able to manage.

It also was a reasonable price and came with a lifetime warranty. So I bit.

While I won’t sing praises to the Rigid 3”x18” Belt Sander, it did the job and I won’t be taking it back. On the plus side, as I said, it did the job; on the “critical observations” side, it got awfully hot, ate two of my belts when I was hogging down something fierce on the backside of the cabinet top, and the belts that I bought to go along with it had minor trouble tracking well. Again, I’m an “ends” sorta guy when I buy a product based on price, so I have to give a nod to the Rigid for seeing the job through.

imageDust collection

One of the all time greatest inventions in the world is the dust collector.

I won’t marginalize the beauty of this magical machine by limiting my categories to “woodworking tools” or “items you’d fine in a garage”, it’s just awesome. While I was at the local Home Depot, I bought some dust masks … didn’t need ‘em. After some previous woodworking jobs (without using the dust collector) I’ve pulled more wood fiber out of my nose than you’d find in most toothpicks! Today, I hooked my dust collector up to the dust port on the belt sander and let it do its thing! Very nearly ZERO dust to contend with! It was gorgeous.

I did run into one problem, though.

imageAt one point I noticed the dust collection hood on my collector was flopped over; looked a bit like the Cat-in-the-hat’s hat … rather than pointing straight up, like it should. While the collection bag wasn’t full, it had a fair amount of material in it so I stopped to clean it out. Another “oh oh” was feeling sawdust inside the hood … it should always drop into the collection bag. Time for some maintenance!

imageAs I was wheeling it outside the shop so I didn’t kick up dust inside, I stepped on the cord; there was a decidedly disturbing *pop* as I continued pushing the unit. I ignored it the way people ignore something they hope won’t be broken if they don’t analyze an obvious problem too hard, but I was certain *pop* was not a sound I’d heard from it before.

But, I got the bag off, emptied it out, and then plugged it in before finding out that, yes, I did break something: when I hit the “on” switch, nothing happened.

I tried another outlet (hey, you never know) before getting out a few basic tools to start looking around. With the confidence of someone who has taken apart a lot of things before in his life, after prying the on-off switch from its port, I was able to find the disconnected clip. Using needle nosed pliers and wondering who decided the wire leads should be so short, I managed to make the connection with the clip, nest the switch, and heard it hum to life.

It was a quick job to put everything back into place and I realized that it wasn’t a defect of the dust collector that was causing the slumping hood: it was the fact that I reduced the 3” dust collector port to a 1” belt sander port, and then the further reduction of airflow due to pulling that air through the belt sander itself. Yup, the hood would stand tall with or without the reducer, but when I plugged it into the belt sander, the airflow bogged down.

Oh well … it still seemed to pull the dust from the air so I continued using that setup.

I need room

imageThe next problem I had to address was how to avoid issues with a 3” dust collector tube dragging behind the belt sander. It continued to get hung up and either halt my movement or cause the hose to disconnect from the sander. Both situations were frustrating.

I tried tucking the tube under my arm, running it over a shoulder, and just pulling a line of it over the work piece; sooner or later all solutions fell short. Then I remembered seeing professional shops in which overhead dust collection ports allowed the tubes to drop down from above! This avoided drag over the work piece and kept the work surface clear of anything but the tools. I just needed to work something out like that.

So, I ran a rope from one end of my garage door rail to another, hooked a bungee cord to that rope and the other end to the dust collection tube, and voila: instant overhead dust collection system! Pretty slick.

It won’t win awards for being pretty, but it was effective and I was able to happily continue my sanding without any additional problems from the dust collector. While it may look a bit kludgey, it worked like a champ. Oh, and a bit of tape to hold the hose onto the sander solved the problem of the hose pulling clear.

Back to where I started

After a couple hours of sanding, I was back to where I started: I had the boards ready to glue down. Earlier I thought I was ready after the planing I’d done to take off some of the wood from that strand center panel. Unfortunately, I just didn’t take enough off. I could have continued planing, but I thought a belt sander would be faster (questionable) and give me more consistent results (likely).

I also didn’t want to introduce stresses to the cabinet top by clamping down the edge and gluing it up with the back unlevel. It may not have given me a single problem ever, or it just might. Either way, stressing something before locking it into place isn’t a good practice.

So I used the belt sander.

Aside from sanding, I cut the center edge board to length and cut my biscuit joints. I really do just need to lay in the glue and clamp it up. I imagine I’ll need an hour or so of dry fitting everything before I think I’m ready to start adding glue.I’ll be nervous so it’ll be good to have everything at the ready and within arm’s reach. The part I’m most concerned about is getting glue everywhere it needs to be AND having time to clamp it up! That’s a lotta glue, a lotta clamps, and I need to to go off without a hitch.

Practice practice practice!

Thanks for dropping in; I hope to have good news the next time I write about the cabinet!

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