A Chemists’s Thoughts on Melamine, Plus Reactions to Rob’s Shop and Bowl

A Chemists’s Thoughts on Melamine, Plus Reactions to Rob’s Shop and Bowl

Lose One, Find Two…

Rob’s tale of his lost Forstner bit in his editorial last time out brought some sympathy – and quite a bit of empathy – from our readers. (It also brought some comments which pointed out that maybe he should clean up his shop.) – Editor

“All you have to do is buy another bit and, like a miracle, the old one will show up. It always works for me, and then you have a spare. You can’t have too many spares. Great write-up on shop experiences.” – C. Rick Freeman

“Use the compressor to blow all the sawdust, the Forstner bit won’t move.” – Bill

“Rob, don’t fret about the misplaced Forstner. With me, it was an errant pencil. Cleaned off the bench, checked the table saw extension table, the floor, pockets. Gone, totally missing. In frustration, I slapped the side of my head with my palm…and the pencil went flying, jarred loose from its perch behind my ear. Woodworking’s a blast, even on a down day.” – Bob Dawson

And Details on the Woodworking


We also had at least one reader who asked for further explanation on Rob’s “another way to skin a cat” method of turning the bowl for which he had planned to use the missing Forstner bit. – Editor

“Excellent looking bowl. I’m just having a bit of difficulty picturing what you meant by  ‘raised a stub tenon on one face.’ Do you have a photo of that step?” -Henry Bruce

“I don’t have a photo, but what I did was take the 8″ x 8″ block and formed a really wide rabbet on four edges, which raised a 1/4″ tall 1-1/4” square “tenon.” My scroll chuck was able to grab the tenon securely, and it went well after that. (I cut the blank round on the band saw.) With the blank chucked into the lathe, I formed the base and cut an opening the scroll chuck could grab on the bottom and then, after reversing the bowl on the chuck, turned the inside of the bowl. I used a shellac-based friction polish followed by a couple of coats of Briwax.” -Rob Johnstone

A Dimensional Error

Readers who downloaded the Carved Walking Stick free plan associated with eZine Issue 253 noticed that there was an error in the directions. – Editor

“It says: ‘Step 2: Lathe-turn the stock to a diameter of 1-1/8″ from one end to the other.
Step 3: Use the parting tool, and, at a point about 5″ from the top end, reduce the diameter to 1-1/8″.’ How does one reduce a 1-1/8″ diameter to 1-1/8″?” – Charlie Schultz

“The diameter in Step 2 should read 1-7/8″. We apologize for the error.” – Editor

Melamine on Sheet Goods: Poisonous – Or No?

In last issue’s Q&A section, a woodworker wondered if melamine-coated sheet goods were a health hazard, a la the melamine-contaminated pet and baby food in recent news stories. In response to that issue, a woodworker plus polymer chemist shared his thoughts. – Editor

“I just saw your latest e-zine (Issue 253) and the questions regarding melamine. I’m a polymer chemist (30 years or so in the lab, sales, product development and marketing) by day and a woodworker on the weekends and by night.

“Not to get too technical, but melamine is a chemical with a lot of nitrogen. It was used in the recent pet food scandal because they sell their product based on protein content. The simple QC tests for protein looks only for nitrogen, not the proteins themselves. Both protein and melamine have a lot of nitrogen. The bad guys could make their product look like it had a higher protein content by adding melamine. The tests, looking for nitrogen, couldn’t discern where the nitrogen came from and so, upon testing, the product looked good. Dishonest, unethical and dangerous!

“The chemical melamine, when combined with another chemical, polymerizes and makes the melamine resin used as a laminate. Properly made, the free melamine content is nearly zero. All of it is locked up in very large molecules and is unavailable to react badly in people.

“Not to get too technical, but for the purposes of full disclosure, melamine is formally called: 1,3,5-Triazine-2,4,6-triamine. It is widely used in plastics as a fire retardant. It’s amazing what it can do to prevent fires in polyurethane foams used in seating, insulation and bedding. Melamine is also used in the manufacture of fertilizers, drugs, concrete, herbicides and pesticides. Melamine resin (plastic laminate) is made when the melamine is combined with formaldehyde. Yes, that formaldehyde. But not to worry, like the melamine, the formaldehyde is chemically changed and locked up in very large molecules that are not biologically active. The non-chemist fearmongers out there worry about combining two poisons to make a kitchen counter. The fact is that both the melamine and the formaldehyde are chemically changed. Residual melamine and formaldehyde, if any, is locked up in very large molecules, and there is not one shred of data that suggests the laminate or any theoretical contamination in the laminate is dangerous. Besides, Formica has been around since 1912, and I know of no one dead or injured by their countertops.

“The only danger I know of to a woodworker using melamine resin laminates is the dust hazard – just like sawdust. It’s the small particles that are the problem, not their chemical composition.” – Tony O’Driscoll; vice president, sales and marketing; Composite Technologies Co., LLC

What the Kids Like

This comment came in response to a conversation thread regarding what sorts of projects woodworkers could make for their grandchildren that would be appreciated by those children. – Editor

“I’m a long-time reader of your eZine issue and have enjoyed each issue as well as the [print] magazine. One of the projects for my grandkids that seems popular is the treasure chests made like a Wells Fargo strongbox that was used on the stagecoaches (for the boys) and a more fancy chest for the girls to store their favorite dolls in as the girls become young ladies. My five-year-old grandson was preparing to come for a visit with his parents and had a broken toy that he wanted to bring for me to repair. My daughter said, ‘I don’t know if Poppy can fix that.’ He replied that ‘Poppy can fix anything. You know he has a factory in his basement.’ Keep up the good work.” – Dr. Bob Miller

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