Big Projects

Just Look at That

The process of leveling the feet on the staked low workbench was not as straightforward as I hoped.  Marking each out with a pencil on a block of wood and sawing to the line was not the problem.  Cleaning up the cuts, however, was an exercise in managing flex of the legs as they are planed and beveled.  I ended up using a block of wood in a holdfast on the face of one workbench leg as a backstop.

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The rake and splay is a little catywampus, but could be worse.

Like most of my workbenches, the very first workholding added is an aluminum planing stop that is secured with 3/4″ pegs in dog holes.  This one is left over from my old clamp on workbench.  I plan to make a palm planing stop to fit the same dog holes, but this will do for now.

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No other dog holes yet.

I figured that a lap joint would be a good start to woodworking while sitting.  A dear friend needed a replacement support for his bed frame out of some straight-grained douglas fir.  The face grain stock preparation was pretty easy (plane a section, scoot back, plane another section) but edge planing could have used some lateral support from pegs.

Cutting the dado in the long piece was quite easy, as was crosscutting the shoulder on the mating piece.  But the cheek cut was anything but. I don’t think low benches with no workholding at all are conducive to splitting or paring (my preferred method for bone dry douglas fir).  I should hog out a sawing notch and make some softwood wedges (softer than poplar, at any rate).

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A close up of the joint.

My next trick will be adding a series of pegs and notches, but only after the bench pulls duty as seating for a get together.

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Something Original

I haven’t had much of an intellectual boner for woodworking, lately.  For whatever reason (probably Monster Hunter: World), it’s been tough to get down into the shop.  But I seem to be coming out of the malaise and first thing on my list is finishing the low, staked workbench.

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The one on the right is still a bit ragged.

The slab has been S4S for some time.  The mortises for the legs were already bored.  But not owning a lathe put a damper on my momentum all those months ago.  But no longer.  This thing is getting built.

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Ever good cylinder starts with an octagon.

Making round tenons without a lathe or a tenon cutter is very much a trial and error process, consisting of three basic steps.  Step one: crosscut the shoulders and then saw the tenon to a rough octagonal shape.  Step 2: split down the length of the tenon with a chisel to get it as close to the reference circle as possible.  Step 3: Rasp the tenon until it fits in the mortise all the while maintaining square down the length.

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Admittedly, that step 3 is a bit more involved than the first two.

The first leg I made went straight to step 2, and some wily grain gave me a slightly conical tenon on one side.  It should be okay (the defect is not load bearing), but I will for the rest of my life worry that the leg will fall out of the mortise. At which point I will make another one.

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With my new octagonizing jig!

I have absolutely no idea if I kerfed the tenons far enough down for permanent wedging.  By going 3/4 of the way, though, the end of the fully seated wedge is still fully inside the thickness of slab. But judging by how the wedges on the first two legs each drove in and seated just fine, I think it will be okay.

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Cards on the table: I still have two legs to go.  It takes about an hour and a half per leg from ripping to thickness to final wedging.  I’ll try and get it done this week, but no promises.  In any event, it has to be done in the next two weeks, because I’m having company and need the extra seating.

I stand by my statement that a workbench like this would have been great for when I first started apartment woodworking.  So much so that I’m going to make a second (smaller) version in a few weeks and give it a try.  Maybe with one of those side twin screw vises that Christopher Schwarz put on his eight-legged bench.

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Moving On

There comes a time in everyone’s life when they must let go.  Circumstances change and priorities shift.  And so, it is with great regret, that I am relinquishing my old workbench to my parents.  It will live a new life as a kitchen island.

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All cleaned up, as much as it can be.

The bench is, after all, home center douglas fir.  A toothed planing stop and holdfast holes are no good for a kitchen surface, so I plugged them up with what I had on hand.  Red Oak dutchmen and dowel rods.  I did my best to select clear wood when laminating the top, but douglas fir isn’t the most uniform of woods. So all in all, for the sake of cleanliness, it should get a coat of paint on the top.  

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Knots, dutchmen, dowels, CA glue and wood putty.  Not really that food safe at the moment.

I did leave the two post holes for an aluminum planing stop, though.  If I ever need to do woodworking at my parents’ house, it would be great to have a functioning workbench.  And a planing stop goes a long way toward a functioning workbench.  I still think this would have been a fantastic work bench to have in my old apartment.

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The paint will cover up some minor defects in the wood as well.  

This workbench has been largely redunant for a long time.  So I’m glad it will find a good home and free up some room outside my workshop.

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A Tour of the New Tool Chest

My English floor chest is, for all practical purposes, complete.  I must still attach the lifts, paint the lid and add some ring pulls to the sliding trays, but it is now at max tool holding capacity.  I’ve organized the trays and am calling this one good enough.

The bottom tray is sharpening and boring tools, plus a tool roll of gouges and specialty chisels.  In the middle are my every day hammers and tools that do not see every day use (e.g., rasps and planemaker’s floats), as well as my largest chisels.  Up top are every day marking tools, plus a block plane and extra bench dogs.

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I never thought I’d see the day.

Down below, the well is separated into three main areas.  At the front of the chest, a saw till at the front that holds both back saws and hand saws, and a tool rack that holds chisels and other important pointy tools that lend themselves to 1/2″ holes bored on 1 1/2″ center.

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I now have room for the router plane container that Jim gave me.  

In the center, general storage for my bench planes (Nos. 3, 4, 5 1/2 and 7), plus my spokeshave and scrub, chisel, small router and shoulder planes, as well as a panel gauge.  The No. 3 is very much a specialty plane in my tool chest, used solely for delicate smoothing tasks.

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I still think the saw till eats up too room and should be broken up into two different tills.

In the back, a typical moulding plane till for my modest set of hollows and rounds (2-8), two tongue and groove plans, my shop-made fillister plane and some other bits and bobs.  I plan to expand my moulding plane collection through a combination of rehabbing existing planes and making new hollows and rounds (hence the new set of planemaker’s floats).

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I’m probably going to move the calipers up to the trays.

In addition to new moulding planes, one thing my tool chest is definitely missing is a drawknife.  I have vintage versions of both a small and a large drawknife, but I don’t dream of using them until I get a way to sharpen them safely.  In my case, a Benchcrafted Drawsharp.

In the meantime, though, a spokeshave will have to do for rounding parts.

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Start to Finish

There is nothing like a good deadline to get the creative juices flowing.  The adrenaline rush of getting it done, right at the wire, is divine.  And deadlines have a way of helping me see through the fluff and get to the heart of things.  In this case, I had to advance my floor chest enough to move everything out of my Dutch tool chest (so that I could gift it to a friend who was coming into town).

Tool chests are all about keeping dust off the tools, so it starts with a lid:

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3/4″ birch plywood, because I had some on hand.

And then a seal around the lid to lock out the dust:

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The nails at the corners are to reinforce the actual dovetail joints

Next stop is reinforcing the lid with another 1/2″ of plywood:

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Easiest raised panel, ever.

And finally, adding a second sliding tray so pretty much eveything fits comfortably in the chest.

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Still cluttered, but less so.

Even without the third sliding tray, this chest is in good working order.  A few tools (like my rasps) are still in a safe place outside the chest, because I don’t want them grinding against each other while it’s still more piling than organization.

I’ll build the last tray, paint the lid and attach the lifts this week.  Then I will have no excuses not to begin working on the upstairs bathroom vanity.

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Assembled like Dovetails

There is a very specific admonition in the December 2015 Popular Woodworking article on the Japanese Sliding-lid Box.  It says “Hand-cut finger joints have to be assembled like dovetail joints.”  I had never cut finger joints before, so this warning never registered with me.  Until last weekend, that is.

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Still in keeping with my “half tails” motif.

Above is a finger joint for the saw till in my ever-progressing tool chest.  There is no shoulder on the pin piece, so I figured it would assemble like a lap joint (by pressing the two pieces together when already overlapped).  But when I tried, the joint did not fit together.  Just before grabbing a chisel to fiddle with the pin recess, I remembered, randomly, the warning in the article from over 2 years ago.  So I tried assembling it like a dovetail joint.  And it fit.  Perfectly.  With no gaps all around.

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More reclaimed mahogany for my enjoyment.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had something register without actually registering.  I’m continually surprised by how efficient the human brain is at absorbing and cataloging for indeterminate future use.  But I’m glad it did, as any further fiddling would have ruined the fit of the joint.

As for the saw till itself, while the execution is sufficient, I am not super pleased with the design.  At 7.5″ wide, it’s designed to hold eight total saws (coarse rip panel, fine rip panel, cross cut panel, cross cut tenon, rip cut tenon, dovetail, large rip cut tenon and a soon to be purchased large cross cut tenon).  But the large rip cut tenon felt too crowded with the others (even without the large cross cut tenon) to pair with.

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When spaced out, it’s not quite so bad.

I think I need to divide the saw till in two: one for panel saws and large back saws, and then another for small back saws.  Regardless, the next iteration definitely needs some slightly-refined kerf spacing.

Like in my dutch tool chest, I’ll leave the saw till loose (with only some abrasive sand paper on the bottom to keep it from sliding around too much).  I worry that the long tool rack on the front wall will occlude my dovetail saw, so I want the ability to scoot is around the well as needed.

But for now, it works and I’ll move on to the aforementioned wall rack (for which I’ve refined the spacing of the 1/2″ holes a bit since the dutch tool chest).

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Incremental Improvements

It’s been a few weeks since I had enough time or energy for writing about woodworking, let alone doing any actual woodworking.  But those few weeks ago I managed to advance my tool chest project quite a bit, by adding the lower skirt.

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It doesn’t seem like much, but it’s a huge part of the project.

Fitting a skirt is never easy.  A goberge (seen below) was enough to close the gaps on the front and back skirts.  But I somehow managed to mess up one of the shoulders on the back lower skirt, resulting in a decent gap at the back left corner.  I don’t think there is a structural issue, but I plan to drive some slotted screws at each corner through the end skirts, just in case.

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Also, don’t make a goberge from soft wood.  It’s a nightmare to fit.

I’m trying to make this thing entirely with materials on hand, so the tray runners are a mishmash of hardwoods.  The bottom runner is ash, leftover from the sitting bench project.  The middle runner is home center hobby board red oak that was once upon a time going to be a floorboard for another till.  The top runner is some re-sawn 4/4 red oak from another lumber yard.  I forgot how gross and unstable kiln dried red oak is.

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This stuff curled right back up once re-sawn from 4/4.

The runners are glued flat against the inside wall, so the cupping after re-sawing turned out to be a good thing.  A de facto spring joint closed up nicely with some screw clamps.

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O! to own more screw clamps.  This had to dry completely before I could do the other side.

For the top tray, I will add a fourth runner: some drawer tape.  It’s just ultra-high molecular weight, low friction plastic with adhesive backing.  But it does work wonders to prevent wear on the soft pine walls.

Next up, if I ever find the time, is the top skirt, following which I will paint the carcase and attach the chest lifts.  I’m going ultra-lazy on this one and making a plywood raised panel lid.  Then it’s just tills, tool racks, and sliding trays.

Sounds easy, right?

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Parallelogram

It occurs to, that even if the case isn’t square, as long as it’s out of square all around, it’s still a parallelogram.  And that means that a tray will still run okay.

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It’s very pretty.

I need to add a skirt and some wheels, but this thing just might work.

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Thanksgiving 2017

I originally wanted to title this post “What’s so ‘Happy’ about it?”.  But my mood is substantially better than a few days ago.

It may be belated, but I am thankful for cows.  Or, more specifically, leftover cow parts that get boiled into hide glue.  Without hide glue, my latest glue-up would not have been possible.

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It’s square to within 1/8″ both top and bottom.  The floorboards can do the rest.

You may have noticed that almost 6 months to the day after finishing my Dutch Tool Chest, I commenced making another tool chest.  An English Floor Chest, this time, based largely on the ubiquitous (dare I say, cosmopolitan?) Anarchist Tool Chest design. Because of the wood available to me, the case is only 23.5″ high, but I made up for that space by making the ends a full 24′ wide.

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I went with a very English ratio of pin to tail.

I am not exaggerating when I say the glue-up would not have been possible without hide glue.  From the time I knocked the first corners together to the time I set the diagonal clamps to bring the case it into square, almost 60 minutes passed.  I’m fortunate the heat was off in the shop, which probably bought me a few more minutes past the typical 45 minute max set time.  PVA would have seized long before I finished.

Because the case is still slightly out of square, I have to nail the bottom boards on first, before I can apply the skirts.  I hope to get both the floor nailed on and the bottom skirt dovetailed and applied before the week is out.  But that feels ambitious.

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This One Goes to Eleven

No, not really.  It actually only goes to 15/16, but that’s okay.  I finished the moving fillister plane.  I’m super proud of the result.

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I have since added a coat of BLO and some furniture wax.

You may have noticed the black racing stripe.  In addition to texture for a better grip, the blank paint hides some nasty tearout from the grip recess.  Dammit, why do I always reveal my secrets?  At least no one will ever mistake my plane for theirs.

I should note that this version is in every way superior to my first attempt, unless you count a slightly too wide throat.  But with the skewed iron and a more refined escapement, it shouldn’t be a big deal.  After quite a few tests, regular shavings eject consistently, whether across- or with- the grain.  Fine, cross-grain shavings bind a little bit, but it’s nothing that can’t be cleared occasionally with a mechanical pencil.

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The angle is right, but it’s a little wide.

Other than the skew iron, there are a few improvements since the first iteration.  The scoring spur extends a bit further this time.  In fact, both the scoring spur and the iron are ever so slightly proud of the body.  This (I learned from Roy Underhill) is the key to a crisp and plumb shoulder on the rabbet.  The screws for the fence are also flush with the fence itself.

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I will eventually reinforce the slots with brass, like the version I copied.

I do not plan to add a depth stop to this plane.  I’ll just mark the depth and clean everything up with a router plane after.  That’s how I’ve been doing it for a while, and I find the traditional depth stop is not that reliable.  And a full-length depth stop may interfere with the escapement.

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So there you have it!

It’s still TBD whether I caught the planemaking bug.  I do have another 6 feet or so of quartersawn hard maple and I just picked up a bench grinder, so who knows what the future holds?

Rabbets.  The future holds rabbets.

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