Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A mallet made from wood pruned from backyard trees

A year or two or three ago, I pruned one of my Australian brush cherry trees, and had a few forearm-sized logs lying around. Recently I saw an episode of The Woodwrights Shop where Roy makes a mallet. It's a perfect match: the short piece of a random log becomes the head, and a slightly less short piece of cork oak (from a tree I planted in about 1987) becomes the handle.

Usually one wants longer, straight logs, but for a mallet, short pieces are good enough, so it doesn't matter if the logs aren't very straight.

The brush cherry is clearly a dense wood - one notices immediately that even a seasoned piece is rather heavy. Upon working it, it becomes clear that it's also quite hard. Mortising the hole took a lot of effort, especially lacking a mallet to drive the 1 inch chisel. (I simply used another random length of long I had lying around - again wood from the same tree that's the source of the mallet's head.)

I've left the handle slightly oversized, since it might not have finished doing all the shrinking it's ever going to do. Maybe in a year or 10 I'll bring it down to final size so that so much of it doesn't stand proud of the head:

The taper is quite visible on the handle, and when I make another mallet (a bigger one - this is just a baby) I might use a more acute angle. On the other hand, the rather strong taper makes it easy to knock down the mallet if I want to, yet is gentle enough that the mallet doesn't spontaneously disassemble in use:

This little mallet seems perfectly capable of doing its job. It's light enough to not be tiring to use, and the lightness permits better control than a more anvil-like model would. But I can foresee a need for a heavier, anvil-like mallet. Something to drive a 1 inch chisel to mortise some extra-hard wood. That would've come in handy while making this junior mallet.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Biltong cabinet

A few days after Christmas I noticed silverside beef going for R50/kg at Pick n Pay, so I bought some, figuring that I'd make biltong out of it. Only one problem: I didn't have a biltong cabinet! What I do have is wood and tools with which to work it. So off to the garage I went and found two scraps that seemed just right to become the frame of my biltong cabinet-to-be. What became the top and bottom was an oak plank I bought for R10, and the side pillars came from a random piece of oak I think I found in my garage when I moved into my house. The random piece from the garage has come full circle; here I'm gluing it onto the cabinet top and bottom with some dowels for a better joint:

Gluing the biltong cabinet frame together

Gluing it up was a bit tricky at first, because the frame was so wobbly at first. But once the first pillar was glued and set, the others followed more easily. I use a loop of webbing tied loosely around the article I'm gluing, and then twist the loop with a stick to tighten it, finally locking the stick with another random piece of wood so the webbing doesn't untwist.

Because I was in a rush, I simply lined the inside of the frame with one contiguous piece of fabric. I want to redo the lining, and install a door in one of the side panels. The current access (through a hole sawn in the top, which also holds the ATX PSU fan) is very inconvenient. Also, the holes I drilled for installing the skewers from which the meat hangs are perpendicular to the pillar's face. Because the plan of the cabinet is not square, these skewer holes aren't collinear, which makes it difficult to impossible to install the loaded skewers into the cabinet. (I ended up poking holes through the fabric just to be able to install the skewers.)

Still, the cabinet does its job: it keeps insects out while allowing air movement past the drying meat, and despite several days of rain, my strips of silverside dried quite nicely. It took about a week for the meat to become recognizably biltong-ish.

A cross-eyed stereogram of the cabinet in operation
I ran the fan when I remembered to put the PV panel in the Sun; the panel is a bit too big for the little fan; its maximum-power output voltage is 15V (at 0.46A) while the fan only wants to draw 0.2A at 12V, to the fan gets overdriven somewhat. So far it has survived the abuse.