thank you for showing respect by reading Rebecca's pages
"To live in the hearts we leave behind is not to die." .... Harold Robbins
I promised Rebecca I would build her urn, and finally found the emotional strength to begin; time, counseling, and Valium contributing to the strength.
December 2: After weeks of searching, I bought a solid block of cocobolo, which is one of the hardest and heaviest woods on earth. It's very difficult to work with because of its hardness.
Unfortunately, in the beginning stage, the tools at my disposal were anything but accurate. The gentleman I bought the wood from plainly does not take care of his tools, which were all located outdoors, and doesn't own the right tools to handle this size block of wood.
The urn started out as a rough, raw block, about 12" long, by approximately 7" by 7", and initially weighed close to 30 pounds. I cut it so it would fit in a thickness planer, allowing me to square it, top and bottom, then used a jointer to square the sides to the top and bottom.
Next, I cut it on a bandsaw to remove 1" for the top cover piece. Just like the thickness planer and the jointer, the bandsaw did not cut a straight, accurate line, but drifted, making the top piece thinner and thicker, although we followed the cut line exactly. The blade itself flexed, causing an inaccurate cut. I tried to solve this problem again by using the thickness planer, and came very close to the only critical point: a perfectly flat fit between the base and the top. My Valium consumption was increasing, and I had to get out of there.
By that point I realized I didn't want to do any further work on those tools. Initially, I wanted to do this work in a machine shop, but every shop I called refused to let me do the work myself.
I decided to continue the work at home, in our shop, using our Shopsmith, and the tools Rebecca and I have used in the past, together.
December 3: The exact outline for the cavity was marked on the base piece, and tonight I removed the majority of the cavity wood, staying away from the outline, and only drilling to 2.25" depth. To give you some idea of the density of this wood, the base, with most of the cavity wood removed, and the top, currently weigh just over 12.75 pounds. The drilling took nearly eight hours.
While working, I cut my hand pretty badly. Appropriately, my blood is inside of Rebecca's urn. In a way, it makes me feel as if I am with her.
In the next day or two, I will use a plunge router and create the cavity to 4" by 11" by 3.25" deep, creating approximately 152 total cubic inches of cavity space. I may go slightly deeper to increase the capacity of the cavity. After this work is done, I'll have days of sanding work to do. Rebecca's urn will be as perfect as I can possibly make it.
click on pictures for fullsize
December 8: Six more hours were spent with a large Forstner drill bit and the drill press. This time, I went right to the line, and drilled to 3.25" depth. A router won't be used, as the cavity is now the right size. With the additional wood removed, the base and top now weigh 9.5 pounds. One tremendous problem remaining is sanding the entire urn to be perfectly square outside, and especially the ends, which are completely out of square.
December 10: Squaring the urn is now completed on two sides, the top, and bottom. This required over twelve hours of work. From this point forward, all sanding work must be done with the top and base attached, as if it were, again, one solid block of wood.
Squaring was much more difficult than I imagined, as I had to use very coarse silicon carbide grinding disks on the sanding wheel, attached with contact cement, and the guide fence. The disks flew off regularly. I discovered that no other type of sanding material will work on this type of wood - it must be automotive emery material - "sandpaper" just clogs up in seconds, and is totally useless.
The squaring work required hundreds of passes to achieve accurate results. Both ends still require squaring, but now I know I can do this, so I'll find the emotional strength to work on it again tomorrow. If I had a 14" tablesaw, this work could have been far easier, and even more importantly, far more accurate.
I began using the pad sander on the sides, top, and bottom with 100 grit emery paper, and many of the imperfections have been sanded out, but plenty still remain. As the sanding continues, which will probably take another twenty hours, these slight imperfections will sand out, and the surfaces will eventually be completely acceptable to me.
December 10 Addition: I did more work tonight. Now the ends are squared to the rest of the urn. They're flat and true now, square with the top and sides. I decided to use the table saw with the fence and miter gauge, and take off less than one sixty-fourth of an inch per pass. I did this eight times - four on each end. I also made the first pass with the pad sander on the ends. I'm glad I went back out to the shop. The major work is now finished, and very soon, I'll add the retaining screws and hardware to hold the top to the base, but a lot more sanding still remains, and all sanding must be done with the top attached to the base.
December 11: Today's work consisted of six or seven hours of sanding the ends, using the dual action pad sander and 100 grit automotive paper. They're coming very close, and many of the imperfections are sanded out. I know I should rest for a day, as this work is exhausting me, but I'll be back outside sanding again within a few hours.
December 14: Yesterday I tried to put the threaded brass inserts into the base which were to hold the top on. They went in at a slight angle, and I wasn't able to straighten them. I didn't know I should have first tapped the wood for the inserts. Today I removed them, enlarged the holes in the base, and filled the holes with liquid steel, which will require a long time to fully cure and harden because of the depth of the holes and the lack of air. After three or four days, I should be able to drill and tap into the steel for the screws which hold the top in place. A lot more sanding still needs to be done, and it's nearly time to go to a finer grit sandpaper.
December 23: It took the steel this long to (appear to) harden, but I've been very depressed during this time, and couldn't do any work. Today, I drilled countersink holes in the top so the screws and washers will be hidden. Soon, I'll drill and tap the threads for the screws.
December 29: Compared to my crude "woodshop" work, the machine shop was the real answer, which I knew in my heart all along. As the pictures below show, I went to a machine shop, and did this the right way. I was allowed to do the work as I promised Rebecca I would, and it was the most productive day since work on her urn began. I probably wasted over 100 hours with all the previous squaring and sanding work, but every second of that time was my own way of expressing love for Rebecca. So, in that way, it wasn't wasted time at all.
The tool I used is known as a vertical milling machine which is accurate to one ten thousandth of an inch. (.0001) The milling table can be moved left and right, forward and backward, and up and down. This machine also had a digital reference readout, indicating the exact location of the milling position, as well as automated power feed, which I did not use. I did everything by hand.
I drilled out the liquid steel, which had never fully hardened, tapped threaded holes into the wood base, then screwed in .500" threaded steel rod. I milled off the excess threaded rods, and milled the top surface of the base completely flat. I also milled the inside of the top completely flat. Then we clamped the top square, marked the holes, drilled pilot holes, and tapped threads into the steel rod for 8-32 screws. Finally I milled the entire urn perfectly square on the outside, with the top attached. It's nearly impossible now to see where the top and base join. This is exactly what I wanted. It finally looks correct, just like one, solid block of wood. From the very beginning, I wanted to use machine tools, not woodworking tools, and it finally materialized. My heartfelt gratitude goes to Russell, Steve, and George for allowing me to do this work properly, and to do it myself. I had to ask many questions, but the labor was my responsibility.
The last two pictures above show Rebecca's completed urn. It's been sanded with increasingly fine grades of paper and has two coats of wax applied.
December 31: 11:45 a.m. - Rebecca Is At Rest
Rebecca's ashes are now inside her urn. This was something very emotional and personal that I had to do alone, in our empty house. I waited until exactly the same minute as Corey died to begin. I'm grateful I made the cavity too large, I couldn't have tolerated the trauma if it was too small. The camera flash caused her ashes to appear bright white. In reality, they're grey. The complete weight now is 12 pounds, 4 ounces.
Rebecca saved the flowers which I gave her on our wedding day. I found them in our wedding album, still folded in the old wax paper. Rebecca's flowers are placed inside her urn, also.
My work is finished, I've done the best I could. I believe Rebecca would be proud. I've shown love and respect to the only woman I've ever loved and respected.
Return To Rebecca Memorial