Big Projects

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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Plywood Roman Workbench (Part 2)

Where we last left off, we had a slab of laminated plywood that was tried and true on the top face because of some smart lamination techniques.  And, in theory, the slab would work just fine at that point.  But it’s better to have relatively-straight and relatively square edges and ends on a workbench.  So let’s do that.

So what you do really depends on your method of straightening.  Because this is meant to be a beginner woodworker project, I used a time-tested method for getting an edge relatively straight and square.  For this you’ll need a hand plane of some sort and a power router with two bits: a pattern bit (the bearing is near the shank) and a flush trim bit (the bearing is on the end).

My first step is to true up the top 3/8″ or so of the edge adjacent to the reference face with the hand plane.  I used a No. 5 Stanley, but anything will do (even a block plane).  You could in theory use a coarse sanding block or even a power sander, but that sounds like a lot of work.   Just check it with a straightedge as you go.

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Like so.

The angle between the flat top of the slab (against which the base of the router registers) and the straight portion of the edge you just planed (against which the pattern bit bearing will run) becomes the overall reference for the bench.  Go slowly to avoid chatter, especially if you’re taking of a decent bit of material.  It should have brought most of the edge into relatively squareness.  Although the pattern bit is unlikely to make it all the way.

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ice and clean.

Now, flip the slab over and switch in the flush trim bit in the power router.  The bearing on the flush trim bit will run against the surface you just flattened with the pattern bit and trim off the ledge that remains.  What you should be left with is a relatively square, probably straight edge.  It’s not going to be perfect, but it’s more than good enough for what we’re doing here.

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Pattern bit on the left.  Flush trim bit on the right.  Or vice versa.

Then repeat the process for the other side and each end.  Get the entire slab to as uniform of a width as possible and do your best to square the front end of the slab to one of the sides (the back end matters less).

You could definitely do this entirely with a hand plane, but Baltic Birch plywood is tough on O1 steel and you’d need to resharpen often.  In any event, break all the corners of the slab with a hand plane or a sanding block.  Then slap on a couple of coats of Boiled Linseed Oil or Tung Oil onto the top face, sides and ends (but not the underside).  Any penetrating oil will do, but stay away from film finishes like shellac or polyurethane.

Up to this point, I’ve used four tools: a hand plane of some sort, a power router with two bits (pattern and flush trim), a sanding block and a claw hammer (with wire brads).  That, plus some glue, resulted in a pretty straight, pretty flat, pretty square, and pretty clean slab that is 60″ long, 11.75″ wide and 2.825″ thick.  Not including glue drying time, I’m about two workshop hours into this project (plus some driving back and forth from the lumber yard).

Next time, we’ll talk about adding some initial workholding (preview pic below) so we can begin using the bench to make the rest of it.  Warning: you’ll need a saw and a way to bore holes the size of the oak dowel you purchased.

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Homemade bench dogs!

Fits and Starts, Part II

Life can sometimes feel like a series of unfinished woodworking projects.  I start with an idea and the best intentions, and something goes off the rails.  In this case, it’s the under-workbench cabinet from last year.  The case has been sitting around, taking up space in my workshop since before American Thanksgiving.  But, unable to get back to sleep around 330am, I decided to push it forward and nail on the tongue-and-groove case back.

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Is that the end of the tunnel or the train?

This was never meant to be fine furniture.  In fact, it’s sized to fit underneath my Stent Panel workbench.  But I’ve gotten used to keeping my saw benches there, so I’ve finally confirmed its new purpose as furniture.  Some 16″ hairpin legs will raise the deck to 36″.  The perfect height for a dry bar.

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Some detail on the T&G back boards.

The plan was always to dado in some shelves in one cubbyhole and add a door to the other.  I don’t think that’s the best use of the space if it’s not workshop storage.  Instead, I will add a drawer to the top of each cubbyhole and use the space beneath each drawer for book storage.  I probably should have done that stuff before nailing on the backboards, but when has patience ever been my first option?

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Probably overkill for something that won’t be mounted to a wall.

There is something profound about the process of laying out, drilling and driving nails.  I usually listen to music while woodworking, but I always forget to hit play with dividers in hand.  I guess it’s so I can hear the change in tone as the nail clears the pilot hole and bites the wood.

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Cut nails where they won’t be seen.  Die forged where they will.

It’s been a few months since I’ve cut any half blind dovetails.  They go quicker in pine, but tend to be a bit more ragged than in hardwoods.  I have a fine dovetail saw (20 tpi) that works well for those tasks.

It’s around here somewhere, anyway.

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Extreme Vanity

If a coherent philosophy exists in my woodworking, it’s this: “Why build when you can overbuild?”.  Or, perhaps, it’s “Could we? (not should we)?”.  Either way, it’s resulted in the most hilariously stout bathroom vanity of all time.

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Glamour shot just before the sinks go in.

The entire thing is quartersawn white oak.  The leg frames are entirely 8/4″ stock (final thickness of about 1 15/16″) and the top is 6/4″ stock (final thickness of just over 1 1/4″).  Everything is stub tenoned and drawbored with 3/8″ birch dowels and Titebond 1.  The long rails are even double drawbored front and back.

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It’s not a workbench, but it might as well be.

I chose to drawbore the mortise and tenon joints for two reasons.  First, there are no lengthwise lower stretchers, so it needed the extra rigidity.  Any lower shelf I make will just sit on top of the short rails of the leg frames.  But, more importantly, I don’t own any 60″ clamps so clamping this thing together would have been awkward and unreliable.

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Pre-assembly, pre-finish.

Drawboring also makes assembly less stressful.  You can move the constituent pieces individually and then assemble in situ at a leisurely pace. Sure: the assembled frame probably would have made it through the door from the hallway anyway.  But who knows (and why risk it)?

The net result is a piece of furniture with a frame that will never come apart.  Even if I want it to.

How the tabletop connects to the frame is a different story altogether, though.  More on that later.

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Alternatives to Fighting

In progressing the standing desk build, I had to make a design choice regarding how to attach the back stretcher. But, more importantly, I had a practical choice to make. The angle of the back leg on each of the two frames is slightly off. Call it half a degree or so. Near the top of the assembly, there is no appreciable difference. 30″ or so down the legs, though, it’s nearly 3/16″ off.

I could, in theory, modify the cheek depth on one of the tenons and cant it very slightly to correct for this discrepancy. Or I could just run the stretcher near the top where the bag legs are, for all practical purposes, parallel. And if I’m doing that, why not in my impatience just lap a dovetail?

Because of course dovetails.

Half-lapped dovetails are an interesting joint. I personally find them aesthetically displeasing, even when executed perfectly. But they provide a mechanical resistance against tensile force that in other joints would require some sort of fastener (dowels, screws or bolts). And, like the comparable joints (mortise and tenon, half lap joint), they have significant long grain to long grain glue surface for maximum strength.

Plus, I find them rather easy to cut once you dial in the compound angle.

Ugly or not, this particular joint is not only on the back of the assembly, so I don’t have to every look at it again. Plus, it will be painted. So I’m happy with the choice.

Now I just have to make the top.

Have I mentioned that Eastern White Pine is just the best? Because it is.

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Palate Cleanser

With the bathroom renovation fully underway, I couldn’t put off building the vanity any longer. Almost two years ago, I selected the design to generally rip off. Shortly thereafter, I purchased who knows how many board feet of 8/4 quartersawn white oak, which then sat in my workshop to acclimate for many months before dimensioning.

It’s been so long, my new workbench was still in big room..

White Oak can be very beautiful and (being both waterproof and tough) it is perfect for applications like bathroom vanities. Hard Maple works well too. But unless it’s air dried, White Oak is just too damned hard to work with hand tools alone. Based on how tough it is (and the way it warped when acclimating in the shop), I assume this stock is kiln dried. So I didn’t even bother trying to chop the mortises by hand. Instead, I utilized the drill press like a mortising machine and pared each mortise to width with a chisel. I also squared the corners, because effort.

Before and after.

The tenons were no peach either. I typically saw tenon shoulders and then split the tenons cheeks (rather than saw them). A router plane then pares down the cheeks to get a piston fit. This approach works pretty well, even in kiln dried White Oak, as long as I don’t take too much of a bite with the router plane. But fine-tuning the tenon shoulders (i.e., end grain) with a shoulder plane is basically impossible. If I don’t saw perfectly to the line, it’s chisel paring or bust.

So after getting through the joinery on both end frames, I was ready for a change. Back to the Eastern White Pine standing desk I’m leisurely making for my home office! If you’ve been reading for any amount of time, you know that I prefer to torture myself with angled back legs and this desk build is no exception.

Fluffy and delightful.

Why Eastern White Pine for desk, you may ask? Well, it’s my experience that a softer wood with a bit of flex is better in the long run for hands and elbows. I’ve been working on a quartersawn red oak desk for about five years now and I’m pretty sure I have arthritis in one elbow because of it. I’ve taken to using gel rests for both keyboard and mouse, but they don’t do anything to make up for the lack of flex.

It’s always a boon to make it through an assembly with no broken pegs.

These frames are only 34″ high overall (and will likely be down to 33.5″ when the feet are leveled). Add in two inches of bearer and two more inches of tabletop, and perhaps 3/8 of felt furniture pad, it’s still only about 38″ high. At just a bit over 5’10”, a perfect standing desk for me is about 40″ high. So where am I getting the rest of the height? From my ventilated laptop stand, of course!

The final desk won’t be quite as long or as wide as my current desk. I don’t work from home nearly as much as I used to, so there is just no good reason for a 76″ x 30″ desk. It takes up too much space. Something more like 60″ x 20″ will be plenty of real estate and will free up a fair amount of floor space.

But this new standing desk will make my current office chair pretty useless, so I need to find a decent 30″ stool with a backrest.

Find or make, I guess.

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