Thursday, November 18, 2010

Metal-workers blues

My eternal DIY quest has, in the past, largely been confined to carpentry, electricity/electronics, cooking, gardening and the like. When it comes to woodworking, I considered myself pretty competent - at the level of the serious amateur, and I have some nice furniture pieces to show for it. Wood is comfortable to me, but I have to admit that I've always been fascinated and impressed by those who can work with metal.

Not being one to respect confinement, or the division of labor, I've recently been trying to make useful things out of metal. I decided on a project - a universal coil winder designed by the imminent late genius David Gingery. I really can't rave about Mr. Gingery enough. The was a man who knew how to make things, as I understand it, he was a high school shop teacher, and he wrote several books - many of which can be found at Lindsay's Technical Books. Lindsay's, by the way, is a Luddite's paradise, and really has to be experienced to be believed.

Gingery considers this contraption to be easy to make, and a good introduction to working with metal. Everything you need to make it can be obtained at your local hardware store, as can all of the tools needed, if you don't have them already. I have a lot of tools, and I had a lot of the materials needed, so I got to work.

I learned a couple of hard lessons really fast. First, when Gingery says that this is an easy project, you have to remember that this is coming from a man who casts metal in his back yard, and writes books on how to build lathes from scrap metal. Second, while a background in wood working is useful, metal is a very different material from wood, and things like, say, the ability to cut a straight line along a mark to with less than 1/8" of variance don't necessarily translate directly. Third, the metal equivalent to a plane is a file, and getting rid of that 1/8" of variance is a lot more difficult when you're working with steel.

As a woodworker, I pride myself on being competent with un-powered tools. When I use a powertool, it's usually to avoid tedium rather than reliance. I've found that I get far more accurate results with hand-tools than I do with power tools, particularly when doing joinery. Initially, I took this stance with metal as well. When I needed to make a cut on a piece of 1 1/2" x 1 1'2" angle iron, I got out my hacksaw, set ip my miter box, and got to work. Just getting a clean starting kerf turned out to be a major chore, and the final result was less than satisfying. Disappointed, I took my stock to work, where we have a metal cutting bandsaw, and found the results to be equally, if differently disappointing and accuracy to be just as elusive. So out came the file, and what seemed like an eternity of trying to true up my cut.

I'm sure that accuracy comes with practice, but man is it hard, tedious work. I'm going to keep at it, even if I have to buy more angle iron, but until then, I'll be singing the metal workers blues.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The smell of rotting cabbage

I'm talking Kimchi, the staple of Korean cuisine.

My father-in-law, who doesn't claim to be a luddite, but who is a great environmentalist - greater than I can ever hope to be has been experimenting with fermented vegetables. On a recent visit, he brought me a jar of his more recent efforts - home made Kimchi. removing the lid, one is greeted by a stench that has to be experienced to be believed. If you can get past that, however, and put the stuff in your mouth, the experience is wonderful. Vegetables, packed with salt, and fermented in the brine of their own juices take on an amazing flavor, retain a crunchiness only dreamed of in store-bought pickled vegetables, and have amazing health benefits. My wife, who doesn't like anything with a strong smell to it said, "I don't know if I like it or not, but I can't stop eating it"

Kimchi isn't the only tradition of fermented vegetables by any means. The Japanese have tsukemono, and mother-in-law recently gave me this book as a gift with all the instructions on how to get started. I can't wait to start. Most of you are probably familiar with the German tradition of sauerkraut, and most other cultures have some similar tradition. Sandor Katz has also been preaching the virtues of naturally fermented foods, most notably in his book Wild Fermentation, and at his website of the same name.

All pickled vegetables are not created equally however. In the US, most of the pickles we consume are the quick pickled variety. These vegetables are not fermented in the traditional sense, and do not confer the same health benefits as those wwhich are naturally fermented. My parents-in-law, for example, report that since they've added fermented pickles to their diet on a regular basis, they no longer need antacids to be able to get a decent night's sleep. I can attest to similar benefits, although I attribute most of my success to reducing my intake of refined sugar to almost nothing.

Unplanned Time Away

I didn't plan this latest absence.

As a self-proclaimed Luddite, I have a great respect for Mother Nature, but sometimes she can be a real bitch. She exposed this side of herself to me in a big way lately, reminding me in dramatic fashion that I am not 18 anymore (my wife, who can also be bitchy at times, likes to point out that I'm not even 38 anymore).

I have a neuroligical condition that's been hanging over my head for ten years now, and while I thought I had beat it into submission, it recently reared it's ugly head again to let me know that the war isn't over, and left me to live as a pile of immobile goo for a couple days, and forced me back into the care of a neuroligist and a pharmaceutical regime to manage things.

Needless to say, I don't like it one little bit. I'm back though, and even if I'm a little slower, I'm taking up the mantle again, and pursuing the sustainable life. While I was laying in the hospital, I took great pride in the fact that if I was never able to pick up another tool, the last job I did - the job I was doing when I was laid low, was building a compost bin out of reclaimed lumber. It's a heck of a compost bin too.

So, I have a bit of a back log on posts, several essays that are half-written, projects that need documenting, and other things to report. I'll be getting them out as fast as I can.