Know The Drill

Do Not Try This At Home. Do Not Try Something That Looks Even Vaguely Like This At Home.

Deadlines were passed and I could at last return to the furniture restoration. Working in the sun, I was making fine progress with a new fancy flappy sanding attachment. And then my drill decided to start stopping.

Bugger. Checked the cable, it didn’t seem to be that. This job might be non-urgent but I can’t really afford to be without a drill – or, to replace it right now. Nothing to do but strip the thing. It seemed to stop working when held at certain angles so I worried that the bearings were worn, allowing the moving parts to slide around excessively and foul – that is, hit something they ain’t meant to hit. My drill is old.

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Fortunately though it’s a Bosch, nicely robust and built with a view to maintenance. Eight screws and it’s open. Here be the innards; the yellow bit on the left is the trigger and speed control, the white bit holds the carbon brushes that transmit current to the moving core of the motor, the black part is the torque control, and the big grey lump on the right is the outer, non-moving coil of the motor.

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And here’s the core of the motor and the gearing, placed back into the casing without the parts that should surround it so that I could check that it moved smoothly and looked right. It did. The mystery deepens; nothing appears to be wrong with this drill.

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Here it is all cleaned and reassembled. As you can see in the video up top, it runs. But only sometimes… This was infuriating now. Hours of re-checking and tweaking later, I finally realised.

It was the cable all along. Though I’d looked to that first as the most obvious thing, I hadn’t checked it thoroughly enough. The fault was intermittent – a  break in a wire somewhere near where it entered the handle. Which of course caused it to stop only when held at certain angles… And it shouldn’t have been a surprise; the rubber boot thinger meant to prevent too much flexing at precisely that point had worn out years ago. I cut a few centimetres off the cable, rewired it, and remade the rubber boot thinger.

It now runs perfectly. So, good to do some maintenance on an essential tool of course. But basically I lost most of an afternoon and the whole evening because I’d leapt right in instead of being slow and methodical. I’d like to say that life taught me a lesson here, but to be honest life keeps trying to teach me that one.

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Ain’t it spacey though?

More Adventures in Furniture

DrawersJust got a bedside chest of drawers from B&Q. It came as a flat-pack, which pleased me no end of course. A kit! I loved those when I was about twelve. It would be just like making a model aircraft again – albeit one with unusually poor aerodynamics.

Well no, as it turned out. Not really. The difference is that with a model, at least half of what you’re paying for is the process. Owning a plastic plane is as nothing compared to seeing it materialise beneath your hands. With flat-pack furniture though, you’re paying for furniture. Very few people , you’ll notice, spend their evenings building model wardrobes.

The assembly is not a thrill, but something you do to save money. At least that’s the theory. This thing cost nearly €100, which seemed like a reasonable price when displayed on an example of the finished object. After making it myself, I reckoned €100 was roughly what B&Q owed me. This was several hours of not wholly unskilled labour, and frankly a small wooden box seemed insufficient reward. Five different sizes of screw, plus assorted bolts, plugs and nails. Three sliding draws on metal runners. Twenty-three variously shaped pieces of timber. While it’s true that when I was a child the best model was the one with the greatest number of interesting parts, this is not a sought-after quality in furnishings.

And I got a splinter.

The parts are of reasonably good quality. Light yet solid pine stained to look like a more expensive tree, but no tacky plastic or MDF. It all fit together nicely, and the results felt solid – or at least they did when I added a few nails and doubled down on the amount of woodglue it came with. (In particular, using it to help keep the handles in place. Knobs that screw on, screw off.) The problem was that the instructions were way less helpful than they could have been.

The thing is full of screw holes that go unused – presumably the same bits make many different pieces – but you absolutely must use the correct ones, which makes assembly far more fiddly and the risk of error far higher than it really needs to be. And while the diagrams are never actually wrong, they could be a whole hell of a lot clearer. Much time will be wasted glaring at the pictures in an effort to ascertain exactly which of seven closely-clumped holes is being indicated – or alternatively, on the non-amusing task of taking it apart and putting it back together right. They’re often the butt of jokes, but IKEA‘s instructions are a model of clarity compared to B&Q’s Danish imposter.

Still, you end up with an almost entirely style-free but not unattractive piece or furniture. Whenever I look at it – which should be most days as I’m keeping my socks in it – I’ll be able to say “I made that, with my very own two hands, the day I was held captive and forced to work by that chain of British hardware stores”.

Varnishing Point

Washstand
It looks just like this. Well it will when I’m finished. Or would if I knew what I was doing.

I’ve taken up paint stripping. That’s where you cover yourself in several coats of gloss and dance around on stage with a scraper. No it isn’t.

There was this old washstand hanging around my mother’s house, lookin’ ugly. I’d never restored furniture before, but I was varnishing the window frames and thought “Well it’s much the same job, may as well do this while I’m at it.”

The windows were finished a week ago.

They were nice fresh cedar wood, not caked in ancient brown paint. Actually I mistyped that as “cacked” first and it was better. This table was totally cacked in brown paint. A rub of sandpaper was not going to bring about meaningful change.

So I got me some Nitromors, the popular paint stripper, slapped on the whole tin, gave it time to do its chemical stuff, and went at it with a scraper. I might as well have attacked it with a sandwich.

Am Tip¹: If you’re using Nitromors on an encrusted piece like this, don’t get the “Craftsman’s” variant. No matter how art-and-crafty you’re feeling, use “All purpose”. It’s more powerful, it’s thicker, and it’s whitish instead of clear so you can actually tell where you’ve put it.

Also the scraper I was using flexed far too much for the job. In the end I got two – a multi-purpose painter’s tool that looks like a miniature seaxe, and the even more ferocious shave hook. Now this really was the business. Its one drawback: with its multiplicity of pointy ends it’s easy to damage the wood with it. Or yourself. Or passers-by.

But with it and the new stripper the paint finally began to move. About three layers down I find one of duck-egg blue. My first reaction – who the hell paints a piece of wooden furniture duck-egg blue? My second though was one of admiration. People who have duck-egg blue paint and just don’t care, that’s who. People with a fine disregard for conventions, appearances, notions of taste.

My third was “Glad I have varnish”.

So the chemicals and violence got the worst of it off, but left a sort of muddy patina. Next then, the scratchening; I dug out the old sanding attachment for the drill. Judging by the dearth of compatible discs in the hardware store this is pretty much an antique now, ousted by dedicated disc and belt sanders, but the drill attachment works well enough. Too well at times; while I was still getting the hang of it I managed to scoop huge depressions into the wood. Pretty lucky I’d started on the underside.

But though this does get you down to the grain with a pleasing speed, it’s only much use on flat areas – of which the washstand has few. The turned legs and grooved details will all have to be done by hand. Lord this is going to be a job. Pictures when it’s done.

¹Like a Pro Tip, except from someone who doesn’t know what the hell they’re doing.