Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Progress on the legs

For the past several weekends, I’ve been driving over to my parents’ house and working on the legs of R2. My father, a retired electrical engineer, has been a woodworker all his life, and his accumulation of saws, hammers, chisels, screwdrivers, power tools, clamps, sandpapers and other tools fills a two-car-garage shed behind their house. More importantly, he has the skill to make use of everything he has. Listening to him explain and watching him demonstrate techniques has been an amazing experience, especially considering that I have never before had much interest in woodworking. More on all of this later, probably.

One note: I have a very, very understanding wife who has encouraged me in these nearly-all-day ventures. (Though the last time I went she did ask me to please come home for dinner for a change!)

We’ve been building up lengths of 1/8-inch and ¼-inch Baltic birch plywood into the legs. This is inexpensive but sturdy plywood that sells for less than $8 a 24 x 30 sheet at Woodcraft in Madison, Wis. (A wonderful woodworking store run by people who know their business. And I don't own stock in the company.) Rounded edges were made with a band saw and will require sanding. They won’t be perfect, but we decided from the outset that perfect wasn’t necessary for this project. Straight edges were cut with a table saw, for the most part.

As pieces became ready, we glued them up. My father had the idea of putting a piece of plastic conduit in each leg to allow for future wires; my first goal in the R2 project is to build a static droid -- but I want the option of adding, adding and adding later on, beginning with motorization. The conduit is one of several things we're building in that will allow for upgrades.

We took some cues from other R2 builders and built up the distinctive horseshoes with seven layers each of 1/8-inch Baltic birch. Woodworking, I've learned in a hurry, is a lot about trial and error. It's the problem-solving, in fact, that has captured my interest the most. There is a skill in determining how to make the fewest cuts possible on a piece, or how to build up a piece that will be sturdy and solid -- and competence has long been impressive to me, in nearly any field. The horseshoes started with interior holes cut by a band saw, which led to fairly rough edges that sanding couldn't make much more precise. We handled the three detail holes on each outer face, one rectangular and the other two square, with a band saw as well.

After seeing the results, we tried again. This time the interior holes were cut with a precise hole-cutting tool on the drill press. And my mother, someone who carves Christmas ornaments on a scroll saw every year, cut the detail holes that way. Success! Each horseshoe has five layers with the detail holes and two solid layers for backing.