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Friday, September 2, 2011


A lot of people like to have a really shiny surface on their headphone cups because it can look really sexy! Generally this involves a lot of manual labor. Let the finish sit and harden, scuff off any nibs with wire wool, smooth sand with 500 grit and then work your way up the many grits in a micromesh polishing set. From 1500 to 12000 grits and then use a buffing compound to get that nice shine, finished off with Renaissance wax. Basically lots of rubbing and elbow grease. I normally do my buffing by hand using either Behlens buffing compound or Hut ultrashine and a rag. Today I decided to try a car polishing sponge on my mini orbital sander. I like to use my tiny 12v Proxxon orbital because it's very light, plenty powerful and gives amazing control. Mine is highly modified to use Festool RO90 pads and sanding discs. Anyway, I slapped on the Festool polishing spinge and squirted some Hut compound onto it, wazzed up the speed to maximum and gently buffed away. The Proxxon has a very small orbit of 2mm and a max speed of about 5000 opm. Long story short, very nice results indeed. As good or better than my hand buffing and much more control than a buffing wheel for these smaller items. It's nice when I find something that makes my life a little easier while getting nice results.

Sanding and polishing

Sanding and finishing are generally the nemesis of most woodworkers and not many seem to enjoy the process as it's so easy to mess up. I have so many sanding things here it's mind boggling, and of course none are exactly right for what I want... sods law! I trawl the intertoobs constantly looking for that 'ideal' thing that will cure all my ills, but reality is never as ideal as marketing. One thing that constantly gives me trouble is small radius curves on round surfaces, like my headphone cups. It looks simple enough, sand on the the lathe with some paper, and yes, for the most part that works ok... up to a point. A lot of woods are pretty brittle and have funky grain patterns which can cause all sorts of trouble when shaping with chisels, so a lot of the time I'll stop at a certain point and finish the shaping by sanding.

One of the problems with this approach is that you need some aggressive paper to remove the majority of the wood, this leaves deep scratches that take quite a bit of sanding through to smooth which in turn generates a lot of heat in the wood and can cause micro fissures and warping. Drill sanding pads are generally flat so you're essentially hitting a very small spot on a curved surface, not ideal. Hand sanding is another option as always if you have the time to do it. Getting a perfectly round and even surface this way is difficult and time consuming. If only there was some kind of sanding thing that was both aggressive and shape conforming!

Eureka! There is!

I'd given the 'king Arthur tools' inflatable sanding drums a cursory look before but was skeptical of it's marketing and if it would indeed help my situation. Well, I plunked down the sizable sum to get a drum, some sanding rolls and the pump. Got home and quickly assembles it all and gave it a try. Color me surprised, it actually works way better than I'd expected. One pump is all it needed to hold the sandpaper roll in place while still being very soft and flexible. It conforms to shapes very well and unlike solid sanding drums, doesn't dig in and cause undulations. The thing is a great idea and cuts the sanding/shaping headaches to a minimum. It can be very aggressive and cuts a lot of wood smoothly over curves and can be sanded smoother as you go up in grits. It takes less time sanding and gives very good results. I'm very happy. Its expensive stuff but will make my life a lot less frustrating, so worth it IMO.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Awesome new finish!

I think I've tried just about every finish type under the sun at some time or another and I'm always trying new stuff whenever it comes out, mostly ending up disappointed with some aspect or another. Lacquer is messy and very smelly, same with enamels, oils can take forever to dry and mostly remain semi-soft, penetrating oils don't shine, shellac isn't durable enough and wax loses it's luster with handling... etc.

Like many others, I've been trying to find a finish that dries quick, is hard and durable, makes the wood look good, builds well and is non toxic. To date, nothing much has come close to giving me all that... until now. The stuff is General Finishes woodturners finish. It's a brand new water delivered oil/urethane hybrid and it kicks ass!

Now before all you woodworkers out there start rolling your eyes about it having water in it, it's not like any other I've tried. First, unlike most others, it actually doesn't raise grain. Goes on smooth, especially if airbrushed while running at low speed on the lathe. Dries *very* fast and the finish cures by oxidation, just like oils. It doesn't leave the wood looking bland either, the biggest complaint I have of water based finishes, it has clarity, depth and gives a lovely warm tone and brings grain out nicely. Lastly, it can be buffed to a mirror finish with micromesh, polishing compounds or a buffing wheel with a little white diamond on it.

Frankly I was pretty astounded with the stuff. It has all the properties I've been searching for in a finish,  It is almost completely odorless and way less toxic than anything else giving even close results and it's now officially my fave finish. General Finishes have outdone themselves with this one and I no longer have to spray outside with a respirator on and wait for days until the smell goes away and it cures. Oh, it's not expensive either!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Letting the creative out.

I was looking around recently at a gazillion headphones online and noticed something odd. It appears that no-one has ever made engraved or carved headphone cups. Pipes, bowls, guns, knives, glasses and such like have a long and illustrious history of fine engraving work... headphones? Nothing! Well, if that's not an opportunity I don't know what is. So off I went to my local woodcraft store and bought a small Proxxon engraver to go with all my other Proxxon mini tools. It's a nice little thing, 12v, very light and much easier to handle than the pro rotary tools I already had. I also bought myself a variable temperature wood burning kit with three pens. A little pricey but much better than the cheapo soldering iron variants. Between these two I should be able to do some interesting things to my cups because sometimes, even expensive wood needs some help. There are a couple of examples of this work on my site, I think it looks pretty nice myself and breaks up the monotony of general cup work.

I haven't done any proper woodburning yet, just practice boards until I get the technique down. The engraving or power carving is also a bit of a challenge because the bits are constantly trying to worm their way out of your desired target. A spinning cutter going at 20,000 rpm can wander or catch if you're not concentrating so it makes a good zen process. I find it oddly relaxing in an intense way and it's very rewarding if it goes right. I have a whole bunch of 'went wrong' practice cups now ;) The biggest problem with all this is that it can be a bit distracting when you really need to get things done and finished. I always seem to be backed up and few things go as quickly as I plan or imagine. I guess that's the same with most peoples projects. I'm working on more realistic targets to keep on top of things.

On needing to get serious

To date, I've been trying to do everything flying by the seat of my pants. It tends to be a bit haphazard and disorganized. Nothing much is standardized and so there is a bit of variation in how I do things and the final results. What this means is that to actually be somewhat efficient I need to change my scatterbrained process. I generally work by eye and sometimes my eyes lie to me and cause all sorts of problems. To try and remedy at least a small part of this I went to Front Panel Express and had them make me some aluminum templates to work from with and eye to consistency. It's just for making the baffles, and now I will be able to get things the right size more often and have all the screw holes in the correct place. It cost a bit of cash, though I think it will really help and speed up my process and I'll be less prone to stupid errors which can be hard to correct.

I also need to track down some small steel #4 countersunk wood screws. All I can find locally are brass ones and they snap way too easy. At the moment I'm using #6 and they're a bit on the large side for where they go. They shouldn't be too difficult to find online and it's just another one of the millions of things I need to do. These will be especially useful on the headphone kits so people don't split the cups open if they get too enthusiastic with the screwdriver.

One thing I've been considering lately is an economy line of thunderpants phones. Priced to sit between the finished kit and the full premium thunderpants. These would be made with standard domestic woods and a satin lacquer finish that is quick and relatively easy. It's the exotics with mirror finish that kill me. It's a hard thing to get perfect and takes a long time to do. I figure that an economy line would be quicker to make and more affordable so a wider range of people would have access to them. I'm going to make a few sets and see how people react. I think the feedback will let me know if it makes sense to proceed or not.

Thunderpants Headphones, the journey begins.

Since I lost my job working as an artist in the games industry I've been finding it hard to get back into it. The longer you're out, the harder it is to get back in. Technology moves on, new programs and workflows are introduced and it doesn't take long to fall behind unless you have access to a good bunch of up to date and very expensive programs. I don't. Given that it was looking increasingly unlikely I'd get back into the soul destroying games industry, I decided, somewhat as a measure of desperation, to start doing business in something I enjoy and am reasonably good at. If full employment doesn't come, this will be my full time fall back.

Thankfully I've been tinkering in the worlds of woodworking and audio for many years as fun hobbies and these seemed as good as anything else to make a go of. I love making things, I have a shedload of tools, workspace, wood and all the other stuff necessary to get started. All I needed was the paperwork to make things official. So here I am, with a new fledgling headphone making business, no budget and no real idea how to run a business... what can possibly go wrong! :)

Of course, it all seems so much easier in my head than in reality. Turns out, reality has teeth and likes butts... mine especially. There are so many things you need to do to get anywhere, particularly if you can't afford to advertise and rely on word of mouth as to whether anyone will buy my wares or not. Luckily I'm reasonably well known in the circles I need to be in so although things are progressing slowly, they are progressing. My arts and crafts/audio business is still under two months old right now but it's looking promising and I have lots of inquiries and support within the Headphone community.

I have to admit, these are the things I really like to do with my time. I'm always trying to come up with new ideas.. both daft and sensible. Always looking for how to improve things and how not to drive myself insane in the process. I'm still working on it.