14 October 2010

Manual Arts

So what am I up to these days?

In the realm of sewing I have made on huge pack for the new MOLLE frame and pad system that I purchased from Down East Inc. which they made as cross-compatible with the older ALICE style packs.  The pack I made has an opening for the Eberlestock Tactical Weapon Scabbard that handily can take up some very long rifles, like my 48.5" Mosin-Nagant.  Basically I was looking to make a 'haul bag' and did that.  Pretty it isn't and having to take the full TWS means that it is huge and beyond what is practical for use.  That and the fit and finish to it aren't what I would call 'good', which is the fault of the designer, which is me!

With that in mind, and looking to cut some mass, I've purchased some 500D Cordura and will be starting the 'Bug Out Bag to the Car' bag, which must be able to have the long guns removed from it so that it can fit in the vehicle.  Here hauling is not as important as portability and only carrying those things that are needed for a quick retreat from the home.  My current pack that was augmented by Tactical Tailors remains in the ready mode, but now it is time to look at paring down the kit, maximizing survivability and portability.

In the mean time I put together a few soft-sided cases for shorter long-guns of the 'Varmint' and 'Tactical' types not going much beyond 36" in length.  Plus my prior post on the Armortek case that I made custom, modular interiors so as to have a secure way to carry a few handguns and secure them in a vehicle or while on the road.

On the DIY Survival side I will be replacing a large ammo can (used for artillery shells) used for storing equipment in the car with a Tamarack Classic Series ATV carrier.  That will take a few more weeks to think of the best way to secure and store that in the vehicle.  I really do like the large ammo can, however, that can't be denied as having great function, utility and looking like junk storage.  What I am aiming for is a bit better use of functional space, a better and less obtrusive fit and something that will help get other storage area in the tiny cargo area opened up for use as it now has a couple of Czech sleeping bags in it.  If I can move the sleeping bags into the main survival case, then they will be easier to get at, cushion the rest of the stuff and give back access to the smaller cargo area.

That gets folks caught up on the interim stuff.

Moving forward I have let my mind wander and have hit on an old favorite of Scandinavians: wood working.

My great grandfather was a wood worker on the docks in Portland, OR, my father had the ability to knock together some amazing furniture and whittle smaller pieces, and I picked up just enough of that experience to give me some interest in it.  That and the part of my shop class experience way back as a teen left me with some of the basic tool knowledge to allow me a relative chance of being able to do something with wood.  The part I was never that good at, and the part that is of interest with older firearms, is wood finishing.  My Mosin-Nagant has some areas of finish worn completely off and I don't really want to re-finish the stock so much as put in a layer of wood protection that is not out of place with the original.  That and making pistol grips and some original firearms stocks (be they pre-fashioned with or without inletting) means starting at the end point and working backwards. 

To that end I've picked up some NOS FN-Browning Auto 5 stocks that are inlet but not finished from Sarco, Inc. and a shock resistant forend from Numrich.  Finishing supplies I am picking up from all over, but I am concentrating on shellac as the Mosin-Nagant was done in a Garnet Shellac (de-waxed), and I want to get a light coating of similar over the worn areas.  This is not to try and refinish the stock, but to get it protected and yet allow people to see just how worn the finish was.  With that said I am also looking into some of the modern Non-Grain Raising dyes from Behlen and using a wooden flare holder as a way to test out a few colors and see how they go with a lighter wood grain.

Along the way I found some stuff to help clean up older wooden pieces (no urethane coatings) from Kramers.  I've used his Antique Improver on the Mosin-Nagant stock and it has helped to clear off a lot of the crud my earlier cleanings had left and even to lift a good amount of the cosmoline left embedded in the stock out of it.  The stuff is simple to use with a hand wiping cloth, and I've used only enough to get a rag damp by doubling it over and placing it firmly on the mouth of the bottle and doing the quick upside-down and back on it.  A little goes a long, long way!  All of the materials in this are natural to wood and seek to get some of the oil into it after seeping through the finish.  Thus oil based finishes and shellac are permeable to it while things like polymerized urethane are not.  I just wipe on, wipe off and then let sit overnight and rub a clean cloth over the exterior the next day before re-doing the wiping business.  That first day left me with a wiping cloth (made from t-shirt material) that had the color of old, dirty cosmoline soaked on it.  After 6 days I was finally getting little to no cosmoline pick-up on the fore part of the stock, where it was the worst, and had actually stopped using it for the rest of the stock as I was picking up nothing from it: a clean rag tells the tale.

For more generalized finishing supplies, beyond what I can get locally from Home Depot or craft stores, I picked up a lot from Merit Industries (although their shopping cart was something I had to manually go through as the Javascript just wasn't redirecting things properly) for the Behlen dyes and some of the shellac supplies, Highland Woodworking for Waterlox plus some putty and other materials, MidwayUSA for some Herters Red stain and sealer plus some hardware for the Browning A-5 stocks (I picked up one pretty battered one and a much nicer one from Sarco, and may do a slow replacement of the existing stock with my hand done ones), and the Shellac Shack.  Those along with some wide mouth Mason Jars from K-Mart and Wal-Mart will allow me to do some custom mixing and testing of colors.

Actually working with the pre-formed stock pieces has been a surprise, to say the least.  Let me say that I had never experienced the 3M sanding sponge before in my life, and it is getting me spoiled!  No longer do I have to think about how to get sanding blocks to follow contours, but just sand with the foam interior flexing to take up the contours and then letting my hand move with the direction of the contours.  Amazing stuff!  I was quite unprepared for them actually doing such a decent job and thought I would be going back to the dowels and pencil arrangements I remember my father using on cabinetry.

I've also picked up some commercial shellac from Zinnsers and while it does a good job, I find it too thick for my needs and it doesn't thin all that well.  Thus I can't get on a thin coat and have to sand back thick ones, even when there is just the slightest amount on the brush.  That is telling me that I need to hand mix some small batches of shellac to get the consistency I want for the type of work I'm doing.  Coating and sanding back most of it means that there is too much coating to start with.  Plus the stuff just doesn't work on a wiping cloth in anywhere near the way I want it to because of the change in consistency with denatured alcohol.  If it was for everyday use furniture or cabinetry, it would be fine.  For gunstocks, I will need something better and make my own.

All of this work, and slowly getting some of the manual tools for wood crafting and shaping, are putting me in the position of also looking at automated tools or hand guided motor driven tools, like lathes and mills.  My problem with that, such as it is, is that it starts to hit into the Open Source machining area and another interest I'm getting for metalworking.  Dual-use tools for the hobbyist are now in the sub-$1000 range at the low and pretty cheap end (Chinese made) that are nearly good enough for not only stock making and woodwork, but metalwork.  The entire DIY home machinist area is one that has a relatively good sized following to it, and I have learned a lot by visiting a number of message boards discussing lathes and mills (both hand and CNC).  I know by the way I do most everything else in life, that my ability to get decent looking hand made materials done is low, although they are functional and work.  Plus, as this sort of thing takes time and patience for training, I am left to the CNC area which plays into my skills with computers.  While I no longer have the stamina to stand for hours on end making something at a machine, I do have the ability to put in a design via a CAM system and let a computer drive a machine on the 'set and forget' basis.  I have no idea if I will make the move to machining as the pros of well made materials is offset by the needs of having real shop floorspace available.  Self-contained desktop machines (or benchtops) may be a solution, more investigation is needed.

For now I'll stick to the manual areas where a short period of work can get results and I can see and feel progress in my skills as I go.  There is nothing like that immediate feedback to give one confidence in their own abilities: seeing and feeling is believing.

As to what drives me in this direction?

I have no clue whatsoever, but trust my instincts.