Bill Pentz Woodworking Home Page
- Building a Portable Massage Table
- Children's Blocks
- Making Fine Boxes
- Single Pedestal Oak Desk
- Kid's Playhouse
- Cub Scout and Boy Scout Projects
- General Information:
- Tool Discussions
- Combination Machines
- ShopSmith Discussion
- Robland Combination Machine Discussion
- Inca Tools Discussion
- Hand Tool Discussion
- Dust Collection Information
At age 14 my father began his apprenticeship to an old German fine woodworker where he learned professional woodworking and carpentry building high end homes, cabinetry and furniture. He earned his journey and master union certificates, helped rebuild Pearl Harbor then enlisted becoming a WW II fighter pilot. Although he continued his career in the Air Force he passed on much of his love for wood, tools, carpentry and fine woodworking. As a military family we moved frequently. When we moved stateside, my father bought homes where we added some sweat equity. I learned to build home additions, family rooms, play rooms, covered enclosed porches, a garage, workshops, a barn, and even a bomb shelter. With seven uncles all in different types of construction, my skills grew while spending many summers in Denver, Colorado helping my uncles build homes doing a little of everything. When we lived in areas unsafe to leave our military bases, we spent much of our free time taking classes and using military woodshops where my father and I built most of our own furniture. I loved rebuilding and learning to fly in a 1938 Beechcraft Staggerwing five passenger biplane. Before finishing high school, I helped build five new houses, four rental cabins that I built mostly myself, plus my parent’s 5,000 square foot dream retirement home in Davis, CA including swimming pool. I decided to follow my father’s footsteps and with lots of work earned a competitive Congressional nomination to the Air Force Academy.
The Academy worked poorly for me but my woodworking and carpentry skills served me well and continued to grow as I returned to attend UC Davis where I helped to pioneer their biomedical engineering major. The cabin work earned me a referral roofing job for the owner of a local hardware lumber store. His referrals and credit line launched me into helping a farm owner by building a wall sized entertainment center. He emigrated from Japan and appreciated the few oriental touches I added from skills I picked up while living in Japan. He wanted me to live on his farm as his personal woodworker and all around handyman. Although I declined far too busy with college and other activities, he constantly wanted me for more big projects and referred me to his friends. This first exposure amazed me. I found thrifty but affulent people willing to pay fairly for top quality work who insisted I put in whatever hours it took to do the job right.
Meanwhile, after my parents left the area which left me with no furniture or power tools except a drill and circular saw, so I bought and rebuilt a ShopSmith. My ShopSmith helped me slowly furnish my home. I built a massive waterbed set with bed, dresser, and nightstands all made of salvaged 8/4 Douglas fir. A burned ingrain with many coats of polyurethane became a theme that spilled over to a huge wooden cable spool that I made into my dining table with matching smaller spools I made into end and coffee tables. The matching entertainment center I made left all looking a little funny, so I matched a trim chair band on the walls and added wainscoting all around the kitchen, dining, and family rooms. Today that combination overpowers, but I feel the same about Laura Ashley. During the height of the hippie revolution, I made good money when I built and sold similar reclaimed wooden furniture.
I grew so overloaded with commission work that I hired a friend to help. Instead he came back from a weekend trip telling me he volunteered us to refurbish a long abandoned old winery at Napa, California. After I stopped complaining about already being too busy, he explained this job paid well, plus the new winery owner gave us the huge old redwood tanks, oak barrels, used brick, and much of the old hardware. I got little to no sleep for over six weeks, and stayed insanely busy the next six months. I made the barrels into planters, built lots of the same picnic tables with benches and Adirondack rocking chairs, plus sold off the used brick and hardware. My buddy earned enough to make a down payment on a ranch in Arbuckle, California.
For sanity breaks I vanished on motorcycle rides and often scrounged a few pieces of interesting wood on each trip. On a ride I stumbled upon a crew taking out a long drive of old black walnut trees. They intended to chop all up into 18” lengths to go to the owner for firewood. I talked the owner to instead let me have the bigger stuff in trade for $1,000 cash with his crew cutting all into 8’ 6” lengths. My tomato grower friend rented me his tractor trailer, crane, fork lift and crew in trade for some wood and my promise to finally build a couple of projects I put off. We harvested about twenty trees, roughly eight full semi tractor trailer loads, plus a half dozen root balls. To get it milled I traded with the lumber supplier I met through my hardware store owner friend. That fellow wanted it all but I instead gave him half in trade for covering all the transportation costs, milling, drying, and throwing in his existing small wood inventory. After paying all off I got about 4000 board feet of black walnut, a dozen burl slabs to make into tables, about 1000 board feet of red oak, plus about 1000 board feet of mostly hard rock maple with quite a few pieces of figured koa, purple heart, bubinga, zebrawood, tulipwood, redwood table slabs, and cocobolo. All told it cost me about ten weeks work and a couple of thousand dollars out of pocket that I borrowed.
To repay that borrowed money I made lots of fine woodworking projects, but made little cash because most got claimed as gifts before I sold them, plus I gave much of that lifetime wood supply to local craftspeople who repaid me mostly with empty promises. That incredible wood find cost me money from being too trusting. I get to at least live with the good feeling that instead of all that fine wood going up in smoke, it became all kinds of nice desks, tables, chairs, wooden boxes, hand mirrors, kitchen cutting boards, rolling pins, chess tables, wooden lamps, bread boards, etc., hopefully treasures all still in use.
Quickly word spread about my nice walnut and oak. A few hired me to renovate their offices, but I worked most on renovations for my girl friend’s father who owned quite a bit of property around the Sacramento area. One renovation built the first Old Spaghetti Factory which became a national chain. The same happened to the Leatherby's ice cream shop I rebuilt. Although I designed and built the look and feel of these businesses, I made nothing from the expansions and franchises, so I tried a few projects of my own. My girl friend’s father found me some partners and a building in trade for part ownership, so I built what became one of the more popular bar restaurants in Old Sacramento. That earned enough to let me build a radio station and refurbish a home where I lived.
My college roommate used my slabs to make big massively thick walnut tables. When we ran out of slabs he found an old redwood railroad bridge that we took down in trade for the wood. He turned those huge old redwood beams into beautiful massive carved tables and chairs. We made a huge redwood dust cloud that slammed home the importance of good fine dust collection and put me into my first 3M dual cartridge mask. That dust problem convinced me to install a big commercial dust collection system. When my roommate moved on I hired other local woodworkers to help. Although I enjoyed the woodworking and it paid well, I hated managing people with a poor work ethic, little skill, and little incentive to learn. Just like my pillow business that hired many non-English speaking student wives, managing sloppy woodworkers proved as much fun as herding cats. I sold off both my woodshop and pillow business and stayed busy in school.
The Vietnam War draft ripped me out of college before starting my medical school scholarship. My unwatched business failed and good old liberal U refused to let me or any other vet return to college. I dropped out, moved to Southern California to help my family then returned to work as a computer technician for California State University, at Sacramento. I used my little remaining money to buy a large tomato ranch where I leased most of my land to a professional grower. That purchase put it all on the line where I hoped the dice rolled in my favor. A bad economy left land cheap, so five good seasons and I owned all free and clear, otherwise I went bust. Moreover, the home came with a fully stocked professional woodshop of all Delta commercial equipment and big motor generator to supply the required three-phase power. The weather cooperated and created good crops, but living way out in the country alone while I worked thirty miles away and frequently took long reserve flights often left my home unwatched. Thieves cleaned all out including my claw footed bathtub and all the tools. I moved into an apartment then into a tiny house in Sacramento.
I missed my nice commercial Delta tools I used on the ranch, but with serious space and cash problems I bought another basket case ShopSmith Model 500. With patience and lots of careful organization, the ShopSmith worked well enough for hobbyist use especially with some upgrades. Also I got a small 1.5 hp Cincinnati Fan dust collector that sat on a 55-gallon drum with a big felt bag that inflated off to the side. It made all the difference in the world, but I still coughed up a storm when I made redwood furniture. I added a downdraft table and portable dust collection hood, but still fine dust filled my tiny rented home.
With full access to the university machine shop, soon I built up that ShopSmith. I added bigger and better quill bearings, bigger table, larger motor, and a lower tool chest with drawers that fit in the base. Also, I built a router side table with extension in feed and out feed tables. A professor friend who watched me make those upgrades finally talked me into selling him my unit. In typical academia fashion immediately he claimed credit for my upgrades and sent off a long list of proposed changes to ShopSmith. I hope they never paid him, but not long after they came out with the Model 510 that used many of my innovations. It came with nicely cast aluminum parts instead of all the surplus and wooden parts I used. It surprised me that they omitted my integral tool cabinet and instead stayed with their accessory board. Still, that sale to him earned enough profit to let me replace it with another “fixer” that came with most all ShopSmith power tool accessories. I rebuilt and enhanced that unit then sold it and two more earning enough to buy an almost new ShopSmith 510 with all the accessories. I admit after I built up my shop I sold off the ShopSmith, then I missed it so much I replaced it immediately.
Carpentry work added to my small technician salary as I renovated a number of offices putting in lots of oak cabinets, flooring and trim. With help from my Makita and Porter Cable hand held power tools that ShopSmith became my main power tool. I used these tools to complete some office renovations, rebuild a few homes, two apartment buildings, and to build most of my furniture. My woodworking earned enough extra to permit a home upgrade this time to one with a big shop. Soon I filled that shop with a full set of Powermatic and Delta commercial tools. I ended up merging that work into a family owned construction firm that my father and uncle started with my tools becoming the cabinet shop portion of the business. Soon my all hardwood cabinets made us a supplier of choice and we became far too busy as the construction industry got busy. I overwhelmed as I juggled a full time job plus teaching at the university, and running this business, so turned it over to my cousins.
In spite of how much I hated classroom attendance, I found myself drafted to teach ever more classes as CSU Sacramento and UC Davis built up their Digital Electronics and Computer Science Departments. I promoted out of my technical job to programmer, senior programmer, analyst, manager, section chief, bureau chief, division chief, then acting director working for the California Governor’s Office fixing troubled State agencies.
As my career became ever more intense, my woodworking became my escape to burn off some of the energy and frustration from work. My new wife surprised me and strongly supported my “woodworking habit”. She let me upgrade to a 12" Inca combination joiner planer, Inca table saw, RBI scroll saw, Delta 14" band saw, and an inexpensive drill press. That exceeded our available garage space, so with two infant children we moved to a new home with a custom oversized three-car garage big enough for my tools. Unfortunately, our homeowner association rules required that we park our cars in at night, so my tools went all on wheels to turn that whole garage into a quickly setup workshop. With my wife very pleased with her cabinets, furniture, and other projects, she supported my continued hobbyist workshop tool expansion. My tool collection grew significantly when she bought the large Robland combination machine separates and I refurbished a big DeWalt radial arm saw. I added just about every nice hand held power tool, clamp and accessory a person needs or wants. Then my wife spoiled me big time with a full set of the Bridge City squares, etc. Our extended family members expected their special woodworking gifts and my wife’s family always came through for me with my annual subscription for Fine Wood Working magazine. For years my woodworking stabilized as I made a few pieces of furniture every year, a few things for the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, a few things for the schools, and of course lots of Christmas gifts.
A 1987 minor ankle surgery developed a nasty post surgery infection that almost cost me my foot and left me legally disabled only able to stand or walk for a bit. Rather than give up my woodworking, I bought a good stool and shifted to build smaller projects built while sitting. Again in 1995 my woodworking halted when a bad sinus infection turned into pneumonia. My ear, nose and throat surgeon recommended better woodworking dust collection, so I bought a nice Jet dust collector. It provided great chip collection which means it collected the same stuff I swept up with a broom. It left fine dust all over my shop so I added an air cleaner. The air cleaner helped protect wet finishes but did nothing to help my lungs as it took too long to clean the air. My ENT woodworker friend doctor required me to work with the doors open, a good mask on, and a big fan blowing air through my garage shop. That worked well but got really cold during my Christmas woodworking rush.
Then I read an eye opening Fine Wood Working magazine article that addressed the dangers of invisible wood dust particles. That article and a too cold shop convinced me to install a cyclone based dust collector. The three options were to build a cyclone from the Wood Magazine plans, buy one from Penn State Industries, or buy one from Oneida Air Systems (OAS). I looked into each option and soon found from talking with an OAS engineer that all three systems were identical as Oneida Air designed the Penn State cyclone and the Wood Magazine plans copied the Penn State cyclone. Not wanting to compromise on health, I decided on the OAS cyclone. They designed my system and assured me that this 1.5 hp dust collection system included ample capacity to provide concurrent good fine dust collection from three tools at once. They guaranteed this system moved a real 1200 CFM and my biggest tools only needed 350 CFM.
Before finalizing my purchase I asked local and Internet professional woodworking friends about their experience with these OAS systems and heard nothing but bad from all except a few hobbyists. My professional woodworker friends who bought OAS cyclones all disliked them, some considerably. They said these OAS cyclone dust collectors performed dismally, the warranty proved worthless, and support stopped after the sale. I then learned a local friend bought the same OAS cyclone recommended for my large home shop. My friend called his OAS system a piece of s***. He said he bought it for his two person shop and found it would not collect dust, plugged constantly, and OAS failed to honor their warranty or provide follow up support. Frustrated, he hired Donaldson Torit whose engineers tested that OAS system and found the airflows so bad they refused to even try to save the ducts. They installed a new commercial cyclone with all new ducts. The OAS cyclone and ducts got dumped into a storage room. My friend told me to take what I needed as he decided to throw that mess out rather than dump it on anyone else. He said to pay him or toss it depending upon how well it worked for me.
In late 1999 it took me a ton of work to install that OAS system and it worked terribly. I followed my OAS custom duct plan and my friend gave me enough parts to almost duct my whole shop. Rather than buy the few missing parts from OAS I discovered identical HVAC duct available from Home Depot and Lowe's for less than one third the cost. I also found the expensive Dwyer Instrument bin full sensor from OAS for half the price when purchased from Dwyer Instruments. I also bought a set of air test gauges from Dywer and these instruments showed the OAS cyclone moved under one third the advertized airflow. That poor airflow combined with their 2.5" hoses to my ShopSmith equipment resulted in almost no dust collection at all. The larger 4" ports they configured barely gave good collection with just one machine running at a time.
In addition to working poorly, major problems made that system a pain to use. A short vertical duct run plugged constantly and repair required taking apart my ducts. The ducts built huge dust piles that posed a serious fire danger plus these piles slammed around so hard they constantly knocked my fittings loose. The cyclone cone plugged constantly just above the dust chute. Also, the tiny internal cartridge filter plugged constantly. Clearing the cyclone and cleaning the filter required cyclone disassembly, a long messy operation that covered me and my shop in the dust I installed that system to avoid. The filter needed cleaned every few minutes when I surfaced large boards which with my using mostly rough lumber made that system a useless constant cleaning nightmare. I installed the new filter OAS recommended and that failed to work at all. Finally, the senior OAS engineer acknowledged their filter design worked poorly. He told me to install the same third party big fine bag filter used on the OAS designed identical Penn State Industries cyclone. I installed that expensive bag only to find it plugged quickly and also killed the system airflow. I spent more time installing that system than it took me to decide to junk it and find a good commercial cyclone. Before I threw it away, I landed in the hospital with fine dust triggered respiratory induced congestive heart failure and severe pneumonia. Certified air quality testing showed that cyclone created a bad false sense of security. It left a clean looking shop while it built up dangerously unhealthy fine invisible dust levels this vendor promised their filters controlled. My doctors took away my tools which launched my Cyclone and Dust Collection research web pages in 2000.
In 2001 my daughter started driving, and the big tank we bought to help protect her while she drove around took my tool's spot. My tools got stacked on top of each other too tightly to even find let alone use. We joked that my tools earned their doctorate before me because they got “piled higher and deeper” aka PhD. A hernia problem stopped me from moving them around. Finally, HTC came out with expensive mobility rollers that worked well under my heavy Robland separates. After I lost almost four years, I started some limited woodworking in late 2003. I oversaw my son’s best friend as he build display shelves for the little tykes’ portion of our school library for his Boy Scout Eagle project. These shelves brought down and displayed the heavily pictured books to entice the small children to check them out. Additional pneumonia bouts left my return to woodworking doubtful. I gave away my Inca cabinet saw, my portable bases, my workbench, my setup tables, my cyclone and my ducts. My daughter used my tools, particularly my Ez Smart system to build her college desk and some art projects. In mid 2009 my doctors gave me permission to resume woodworking, but only in a spacesuit. I installed a Clear Vue Cyclone of my design and hope to resume making a few small projects. Anyhow, I rambled on far too long.