Author: The Apartment Woodworker

The Apartment Woodworker is a weekly blog with insights, projects and tips for making the most of woodworking with hand tools in confined spaces.

I’ve Done it Again

About five years ago, I sliced off the meaty tip of my middle finger on my left hand with a marking knife while using a combination square.  Well I’ve done it again.  The exact same wound.   I don’t have any pictures from the hospital this time.  But I did manage to locate some of the dried blood after I got back home.

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Maybe it will pit the holdfasts for better grip.

I’m told this too will grow back eventually.  But I’m in pain and limited in what I can do both in the shop and at the office for a week.

Moral of the story: be careful out there folks.

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An Iterative Process

Not everything goes to plan the first attempt.  Any decent woodworker has internalized that fact.  Take, for example, a jointing sled I recently made for my thickness planer.  It’s a jig consisting of a tried and trued 2x4x96 with four boards glued and screwed at 90 degrees to the jointed edge.  And it worked okay, I guess, on the first try.

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Iteration 1.

See, here’s the thing: I consider myself to be a hand tool woodworker.  But after truing one face and squaring one edge of a board, bringing the other face and edge into parallel by hand starts to feel an awful lot like actual work.  That’s where a thickness planer comes in.

But for a very twisted board, even squaring that one edge to a trued face can be more of effort than I’m willing to expend.  And that’s where this jointing sled comes in.  I can clamp the trued face to the uprights with F-Clamps and send it through the thickness planer to square the edge.  A quick hand planing will address any errors and then back to the thickness planer for S4S.  Just as if I had done the donkey work of hand squaring that first edge.

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The clamps go the other way around.

But my prototype sled didn’t work perfectly.  Just clamping to the 90 degree uprights didn’t support the board enough.  Compression from the planer’s rollers bowed the wood and planed a big hump along the length.  I tried using brass bar stock to support the beam but they kept falling out or shifting because of vibration.

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And I didn’t have enough for the entire length.

In the end, I added adhesive-backed sandpaper to the uprights and used hot glue to shim under the length of the beam.  Just like a normal planing sled.  This made the whole thing quite a bit more rigid and minimized the hump, even if it did add a bit of prep time.

But it was still less pretp time than hand-planing that edge square.

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Trendy Furniture Follow-up

I did something yesterday that I don’t do all that often.  I bought a piece of wooden furniture, rather than make it myself.

Now hold on there: it’s true that I bought the chairs and stools for my dining table and bar.  But those are metal and fit a specific aesthetic with the rest of the room.  And I bought them a quite a few years ago (at least the chairs), when I was still relatively new to hand-tool focused work.

The piece of furniture in question is a bookcase.  Specifically, a simple pine bookcase to display my vintage Lego collection.  It’s from a bare wood market called WoodMarket in Monroe, CT.  And it’s perfect for what it needs to be.

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Vintage Magic: the Gathering card binders on the bottom for stability.

Will I still build that leaning bookcase?  Probably.  But now I can put it on the back burner and get back to a couple of projects I’ve been halfway through for a while.  Discretion is the better part of valor, as it were.

And, most importantly, I was able to support a local artisan in the process.

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Trendy Furniture

I don’t much go in for casework, being sans table saw and largely migrated to digital book collections (outside of woodworking books).  But I have need for more shelf space.  Specifically, to display my vintage Lego collection in my home office.

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I’m about 2/3 done unpacking at this point.

A heavy bookcase seems like a waste of time and materials for such a display.  I could build or buy a lighted curio cabinet, but that’s probably overkill for what I’m trying to do here.

But there is a form of bookcase that would do perfectly: the wall-leaning variety.  They are utterly ubiquitous and just behind live edge epoxy river tables and ahead of standing desks in trendiness.  But, they are also easy to make with hand tools and relatively light on materials.  So I’ll have a go of it with some leftover Eastern White Pine 2×8’s from the standing desk build and some clear-ish home center 1x12s

The design I have in mind will incorporate a dovetailed cabinet for a bottom shelf, which will hold some larger books and heavy items.  That way, there can be dovetails in the project.  Three or four additional shelves (over 80 inches of height) should be plenty to comfortably display all the vintage goodness.

In case you’re wondering, my favorite Lego sets are from 1989’s Space Police I and 1994’s Spyrius, with 1990’s M-Tron being a very close third.  Check out http://www.bricklink.com.

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Onward and Upward

After finishing up the leg vise on the long console table, it took less than a week before I actually got to use the thing.  It may be the first, but here’s hoping it won’t be the last.  I think the linen hub on the blue chop does a great job of hiding all the imperfections.

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More silliness, indeed.

I took some of last week off and used it well.  I’ve wanted a TV easel for years after first seeing the Restoration Hardware version.  It seems like an efficient use of space and maintains full flexibility for furniture layout.

Now, I assume the adjustable version exists because there is more than one size of TV, which makes sense.  But I only have one size of TV, so I figured a fixed model would work just fine. And it started with a single “African Mahogany” 8/4 board and a sketch.

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A sketch to scale on graph paper, but still.

I’ve been cutting many mortise and tenon joints lately, so the entire project took only about 30 shop hours.  Had I not been in practice, I think it would have taken quite a bit longer.  The whole thing begins with a base, from which all the other measurements are derived. All tenons are drawbored and it rolls on metal casters from the home center.  The project is finished in Tung Oil.

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Whatever version of Khaya this is, it’s pretty.

I believe in good posture.  So when sitting upright, the exact center of the TV should be at eye level.  For me and my particular couch, that’s 46″ or so.  So after connecting the very top of the uprights and adding a lower cross rail, it was time to figure out where to add the rails to which the TV itself would be mounted.  This could have also been accomplished with drawbored mortise and tenon joints, but that would have ultimately permanent.  With glued and nailed lap joints, I could, in theory, one day relocate these rails to fit a new TV.

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Still looking pretty.

The M8 mounting bolts for my particular model of TV are located in a square with corners at 400mm on center (or about 15.748″).  I took great care to drill out the top cross rail so the holes perfectly lined up with the threaded inserts in the TV, and lined the holes with copper tubing for reinforcement.  The holes in the bottom rail, however, were also drilled at 1/16″ larger than the diameter of the mounting bolts but no copper tubing was added.  This gave some wiggle room in case something became misaligned as a result of tolerance stack.

But everything worked out in the end, and each of the bolts seated nicely.  I made two shelves also: one fits in the void in the base and the other laps onto the lower rail.  I think it came out pretty great.  But in the process of oiling the assembly, some of the iron from the nails seems to have bled a little bit onto the uprights, which I plan to correct at some point by planing down to fresh wood and re-oiling.

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Both PS4 and XboxOne.  The scandal!

In case anyone was wondering, here is what the back looks like.  I just wish there were M8 bolts available in square head powder black.

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Hopefully no one can read the serial numbers.

So I had much fun with this build.  And it felt good to complete a project during the allotted time.

Just don’t expect me to keep the streak up.

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More Silliness

You may have noticed the tapped screw hole or the parallel guide slot in the front left leg of the new dining room console table.  It’s highly unlikely to ever be used, but one can never have too many available vises, right?  I really should be working on the bottom shelf for the table, but when have my priorities every been straight?  I freely admit all of this is a vanity exercise, as the vise will just live on the shelf of the console table.

Plus, I had the 1 1/2″ hard maple screw handy (the spare for the leg vise on my main workbench, the stretcher-less Stent Panel workbench).  I also had some leftover 1/4″ hard maple to make a garter (more on that below).  And it would be a shame if they went to waste.

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No “Sunk Cost” fallacies to see here.

I’d like this leg vise to be as low profile as possible.  So, instead of a cylindrical vise hub with a through handle, I shaped a wing nut from soft maple to act as the hub.  This not unlike the Holy Roman Hurricane Nut for the crochet on my old work bench.  Some wood glue and a through dowel reinforcement should make a permanent and robust bond between screw and hub.

Before I know where to attach the hub, however, I need to plow the groove for the garter.  The garter affixes the vise screw to the vise chop and allows the chop to move with the screw.  Otherwise, you have to move the chop by hand (which is fine, I guess).

I still don’t have (or want) a lathe, and am certainly capable of cutting the groove completely freehand.  But sticking with what works is no fun at all, so let’s try a different method.  Ingenuity is what small space woodworking is all about.  But “ingenuity” is really just code for “making due with what’s at hand”.

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I didn’t get a before shot.

Conveniently, the vise hub I just made will help hold the screw and my machinist granite slab will act as a convenient stop as I rotate the work with my left hand.  Now all I need is a way to plow the groove with my right hand.  A chisel would certainly work, but one handed chisel work is precarious at best and likely to wander.

How about a router plane registered against the vise hub?  I have a 1/4″ blade for my router plane.  And the vise hub would work really well as both a fence for the protruding blade and a platform for the body of the router plane to stabilize everything.

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Let’s play “Spot the ‘chisel hands’ scars”!

Plowing the garter groove this way takes a while, but probably not any longer than getting the screw centered on a lathe.  And it certainly cramps up the hands.  But taking it slowly yields a fairly clean, fairly uniform groove.  Or at least it did for me.  The bottom of the groove had an overall diameter of just under 1 1/4″ when all was said and done.

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The vise hub keeps the inside of the hole clean, but the outside needs minor cleanup.

When preparing the garter, some CA glue held the two halves of the garter stock to a sacrificial board for drilling the clearance hole with a 1 1/4″ forstner bit on the drill press.  I then attached the garter to the vise chop with some countersunk No. 10 slotted screws to check the fit.  The vise chop is laminated from the same soft maple as the vise hub.  A couple dabs of hide glue will reinforce the bond between the garter and the chop after final assembly.

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“B” stands for “Backup”.

I didn’t get a picture, but I also trimmed the vise screw to length and glued it onto the screw before adding a 3/8″ birch dowel to lock everything in place.  I will paint the vise hub with “Linen” milk paint like the undercarriage of the console table, and the chop will be painted “Coastal Blue” like the table top.

The pinboard for the vise is up next, but that requires a different type of ingenuity.  In that case, “ingenuity” is really just code for “patience”.

You’ll see why, soon enough..

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Better than Ever

Or, at least better than I could have hoped…

I finished the reclaimed wood console table the other day and bought some counter top height stools to match the chairs I have for my dining table.  I think the entire thing came out pretty great.  I’m typing this post while seated at said console table, on perhaps the most beautiful day of the summer.

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Yes, I do worship at the altar of Bezos.  Why do you ask?

The back tray is home center 4/4 Poplar.  Made from a single board that was relatively straight and had no wind to speak of, there is not much to the tray other than glue and nails.  A quick test fit ensured it was ready for finish.  Once it was painted, I nailed it on with two brad nails into the top raids (in keeping with the theme of simplicity).

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Pre-paint color match is pretty spot on, if I do say so myself.

I have a new favorite color in General Finishes milk paint: Coastal Blue.  It’s essentially Navy Blue, but I live by the ocean.  Get it?  The table top of the console table is bare wood finished in Tung Oil.  I think it works well.

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This picture evinced that I needed more paint along the joint.

At my local lumber yard today, 4/4 soft maple shorts were on sale for 2.90/bf, so this table is getting a hardwood shelf (which will also be painted Coastal Blue).  The shelf will likely be piled with books, binders of M:tG cards, and my Milkman’s Workbench.  Which will then add enough weight that if I never needed to, I could use this table for light duty woodworking.

You may be wondering: why paint the front edge of the table top?  To hide the epoxy glue lines of two patches that filled in where there used to be dadoes, of course.  Why else use paint if not to hide unsightly wood situations?

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It’s important to note grain direction and the date of planing.

I bought an extra piece of 4/4 soft maple to laminate into a vise chop for the leg vise that shouldn’t be.  I also have a plan for the type of vise hub to make and am thinking about going garter-less for this.  There is already too much metal in this piece with about 15 brad nails and two slotted screws.

No need to push it.

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The Abyss Stares Back

It’s come to my attention that I’ve been misquoting Nietzsche for some time (even though I can spell his name first try, every time).  From “Beyond Good and Evil”, Aphorism 146 states:

He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.  

This well-known quote from the oft-misunderstood German philosopher is undoubtedly the genesis of the Harvey Dent quote in “The Dark Knight (2008)”:

You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.

But, because I, like The Batman, am not a hero, let’s allow the abyss gaze into me for a moment.

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So many mortises, I feel like I haven’t cut a dovetail in forever.

Last week and over the weekend, I did in fact dig deep and bear down.  I chopped four new mortises in the leg frames for the reclaimed console table and planed and joined the two long rails.  After all was said and done, there were 20 drawbores in the undercarriage, plus another 4 in the joints between the front legs and the main slab.  And then I painted the entire undercarriage with “Linen” milk paint.

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Not to be confused with “Antique White” or “Seagull”.

But even the best laid plans don’t work out perfectly, so there was plenty of time for things to go pear shaped.  But I was pleasantly surprised when everything came together pretty much straight and square. 24 drawbores, not a single snapped dowel.  Not even a stripped screw on the tabletop connectors.

The picture below doesn’t do it justice, but the piece feels light and graceful.  And in the mid-afternoon light of a north facing window, it evokes the “Islands of New England” feel I was hoping for.  I’m building a shallow tray out of 3/4″ poplar to fill out the rest of the table top, which will be painted in “Coastal Blue” milk paint and nailed on.  The face edge and ends of the main slab will also be painted that color.  The only bare wood will be the top and back edge of the main slab.

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A shelf, if added, will also be painted “Coastal Blue”.

You may recall that I had a tripartite plan:

  • Drawbored mortise and tenon joints for the long stretchers.  ✔
  • Reinforce main slab with a board glued on below.  X
  • Skip the shelf.  ✔

As someone once said, two out of three ain’t bad.  And that’s one more batch of reclaimed lumber off the pile. We’ll see if I ever get to that leg vise and/or fixed deadman.

Unrelated, I also ended up putting an end cap on the pine bench top extension to the Stent Panel workbench.  I think it looks a ton better, even if it’s not functionally necessary.  It’s not a great color match at this point, but there are worse things in life.

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I can finally sleep at night!

Now, if I could just figure out how to do the same thing on the left side of the bench.

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Staring into the Abyss

There comes a point in every build where I have to ask myself: do I dig deep and bear down, or take the easy way out?  I am ashamed to admit it’s barely better than a 50/50 split over time.

I’ve been working for a while on a rather large “console table” made entirely of reclaimed lumber from past projects.  The undercarriage is hard maple reclaimed from one of my earliest woodworking projects: a platform bed.  Even after planing and sanding, you can still see the remnants of gross home center stain in the pores.

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Looks green, but is actually “mahogany”.

If the general shape looks familiar, it should.  And I have, to this point, worked hard and done it right.  All the joints are mortise and tenon, drawbored with 7/16 dowels with relatively aggressive offset.  Solid as a rock.  The undercarriage will be painted to cover up the gross discoloration and some tear out of wild grain.

The tabletop, however, will be ash.  Specifically, ash reclaimed from the back wing of my Stent Panel workbench.  Reflattened and otherwise cleaned up a bit, it’s 80″ long, 10″ wide and a hair under 1 7/8″ thick.  That’s more than half of the overall tabletop area and solid enough for whatever light duty it may pull as it sits under a north-facing window in my dining room.

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It’s pretty enough for its intended purpose.

The tenons on the tops of the front legs will be drawbored into mortises in the slab.  Some DIY tabletop connectors should combine to make a stout connection between the frame and the tabletop.  All while allowing for seasonal wood movement.  Some sort of full length tool well will fill out the rest of the table top, but probably won’t be good for much other than collecting junk.

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Tabletop connectors are good enough when there won’t be much wracking force.

At this point, the mortises are cut into the slab and everything fits together nicely.  But, as always happens, I now have a choice. There will definitely be stretchers on this table.  It would otherwise be too wobbly with just a single tenon and tabletop connector on each leg frame.  But how do I connect the stretchers?

Do I meticulously mark and pare shoulder lines for proper mortise and tenon joints (like the leg frames) for maximum strength and consistent aesthetic? Or do I skimp on time and process and lap the stretchers into the front and back legs, which would certainly be strong enough and look just fine?

And once the stretchers are attached, should I add a jack board mortised between the front stretcher and the underside of the tabletop to add a bit more rigidity in the middle and act as a fixed deadman?  Or do I just glue a strip of maple to the underside of the tabletop to reinforce it more discreetly?

What about a shelf?  Do I add one at all?  If so, is it birch plywood banded in maple or solid wood reclaimed from some source?

Each of these choices affects the amount of effort and time required to finish this project.

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Here I am, staring into the abyss.

So here is my hot-take (for now):

  • Drawbored mortise and tenon joints connect the long stretchers to the legs.
  • Tabletop reinforced with additional lamination below.
  • No shelf, for now.  I may also add a loose deadman one day.

Everything is a give and a take in hobby woodworking. Doubly so in small-space hobby woodworking.  But, sometimes, there is a middle ground between “dig deep, bear down” and “easy way out”.

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Back to Back to Back

I’m not quite ready to abandon my upright Stent Panel Workbench for the low, sitting variety.  But I am ready to correct something that’s bugged me ever since I finished the workbench in the first place: the back wing.  It never stayed flat on its own, let alone in plane with the main slab of the bench.  There is clearly some design flaw, even though I allowed for wood movement and ample support with three posts mortised into the slab.  I’ll re-use the wing (which is 86″ x 10″ x 2″ ash) for another project.

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I need more 1″ holdfast holes.

The main slab of the workbench is only 12.5″ wide.  That’s nothing to scoff at, but it’s not nearly enough real estate for tasks like gluing up panels or project assembly.  And there is pretty much no place to set down tools so they are close at hand.  So first up is a tool tray that spans half the area where the wing used to be.  After much deliberation, I’ve approached this a bit like a Dutch tool chest.  Dovetails at the bottom corners for maximum strength, nailed on back.  In 3/4″ poplar, because there was a very nice piece of 1×10 at the home center when I was buying some more 1×12 white pine for general building purposes.

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Reasonably consistent color for poplar, and a decent color match to ash once oiled.

The finished tool tray is just a hair under 37″ wide (the posts themselves are exactly 37″ apart) and 6″ deep.  There is 3.5″ of clearance below the benchtop.  This is plenty for a bench plane on its side and all the other tools I’d like close at hand.  Speaking of which, I decided to attach the tool well to the left side of the bench (the end with the leg vise), which seems like the best place to keep tools at hand.

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Because if it can’t fit a hand plane clear of the workbench top, it’s not a good tool tray.

There are a few ways I could have hung the tool tray to the bench.  But the simplest and easiest was to add some runners to the ends so it just hangs on the posts.  The posts are not perfectly in wind, so I clamped the tool tray to the bench and nailed the runners in the right position, rather than squaring them initially and planing them down to fit.  Some small blocks, nailed onto the posts, keep the tray from sliding away from the slab.

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Don’t tell anyone, but I used the 18 gauge brad nailer to attach the runners and blocks.

The ends of the tool tray are in plane with the workbench slab.  This was intentional, as originally I intended entirely replace the back wing with two tool trays.  But after working on the bench with the tool tray for a few days, it became very apparent that I needed at least part of the bench to be solid for the full 20″ of depth.

From 9 months or so of working on this bench, it’s become clear that the wing doesn’t need to be terribly stout.  It certainly doesn’t need to be 2″ ash reinforced with 2″ angle iron.  So instead I grabbed an otherwise somewhat useless 2″ pine off cut that’s lapped onto the posts.  There are a few wire brad nails acting like dowels to support the seam with the main slab and a couple more wire brads through the board into the posts to keep everything in place.  Net it, this board can move much more freely with seasonal expansion and contraction than the old wing could.  But it will be easily replaceable if I get neurotic and replace it with ash again (which, let’s face it, I definitely will).

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And the color match isn’t terrible, either.

For optics, but not functionality, I will probably nail a board to the end of the extension to bring it flush with the right end of the bench (and provide a bit more resistance to cupping, like a breadboard end).  Absolutely nothing ever happens all the way at that back corner.  It’s just to make it prettier.  I could do the same thing at the back right corner, but the end of the tray (which is flush with the bench top) is already in line with the last bench dog hole, so it’s not strictly necessary either.

I unfortunately can’t tell if the color match is getting better or worse with a second coat of Tung Oil.  Maybe I just have to open the blinds and let the sun shine in for a couple weeks.

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Or paint the whole thing black!

This is a good time to mention that 36.25″ is a bit too high for comfortable hand planing at my height (I’m 5’10”).  Even if it is better for sawing and chopping.  So I’ll eventually trim about 1″ off the ends of the legs.  Which is easier said than done, as the back legs are angled.

But I’ll give it a try and report back.

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