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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.