Projects

In Praise of Dadoes

Sometimes it feels like the only joinery I cut is dovetails.  A distant second to dovetails are dadoes (a/k/a housing joints).  And the mortises and tenons I cut for the ash sitting bench felt like the first I’d done since building my workbench, and the first for furniture in years.  I

n my view, dadoes are the easiest (and most satsifying) joint to get right.  You can even cut the dado overly-tight and later fix the mating piece to fit.  The thunk of a fully-seated housing joint is a beautiful thing.  And it can be a very strong joint, in the presence of glue or nails (or both).  

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An overly-tight joint works quite well in compressible pine.

Whenever possible, though, I will use a stopped dadoes for the show face of a piece.  A through-dado is just fine if it won’t be seen (either on the back of the carcase or covered by a face frame) or the piece isn’t fine furniture.  But on the show face, a through-dado looks too much like a mortise haunch to me.  No matter how perfect it is, I’d rather have the clean shoulder line.

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Isn’t a dado pretty much a shallow mortise with a shoulderless tenon, anyway?

The trickiest part, I find, is the act of fitting the mating piece into the final joint.  Boards can cup between dimensioning and assembly.  Driving a cupped board into a straight dado is a recipe for brusingt the surrounding face grain.  To combat this, I clamp on a caul to flatten the mating piece.  After it’s seated, the dado itself will hold the board flat.

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Dovetails typically do this work without need for a caul.

On an unrelated note, I’m deciding on whether to paint the wall cabinet before I glue it together.  I wouldn’t normally, but I’m using latex (not milk) paint for this one.  So working out the kinks on the underside of the bottom board before assembly is probably a good idea.

Probably.

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Needing Something More

It’s a magic thing.  Starting from 7 linear feet of home center 1×12 eastern white pine. Adding the plane, the saw and the chisel.  Then ending up at the finished piece.  In this case, a 14″ x 30″ x 7.25″ wall cabinet, with through-dovetails at the corners and stopped dadoes for the shelf.  It is as perfect as I am capable of making.

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And perfect for hiding in a bathroom corner behind a door!

But it looks a bit plain to me.  I can only imagine how drab it will be when painted grey to match the vanity in the bathroom.  Rather than shape the sides, though, I may spruce it up with small molded face frame.  Or perhaps just an applied moulding on the shelf.  In any event, something I can do with moulding planes.

It feels like everything I make is square and flat.  Maybe it’s time I learn to cut compound dovetails.

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A Brief Flashback

My post the other day reminded me that I never actually posted this.

Once upon a time, as a supplement to my Milkman’s Workbench, I made what I called a “planing slab”.  It was 6 feet long, 13 inches wide and about 2 inches thick (after several flattenings), with a Veritas Inset Vise on one end.  It clamped to my dining table with angle iron, just like the Milkman’s Workbench.  And now, it has reached its full potential.

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Yes, that’s a second Japanese-style saw horse as well.

I had always meant to add a cleat to the underside so it could function like a Japanese-style workbench.  Nothing fancy, like the sliding dovetail shown in the source material.  Just dado and glue.  I used PVA, so I’m pretty sure it’s permanent.

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So tight, it needed clamp persuasion to seat.

The most important thing I’ve learned in this process is that the coefficient of friction on douglas fir is not significant.  A layer of adhesive-backed sandpaper on the underside of the slab in front of the cleat or (better yet) on the tops of both sawhorses does wonders to keep the slab in place.  A couple of F-style clamps holding the cleat tight against the front saw horse also work.

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Holy Roman Hurricane Nuts

If you haven’t picked it up yet, I highly recommend Roman Workbenches, published by by Lost Art Press. I don’t have a suitable board at the moment, so I plan to scour the home center for a nice 2×12 (either 14 or 16 feet) and give one a try. I’ve never made a staked bench before, but after the Mortise and Tenon Magazine roman workbench build along, I’m inspired.

In the meantime, I did add a little Holy Roman magic to my existing workbench, in the form of a hurricane nut for the crochet screw.

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I never did remove the old vise nut from the failed face vise.

It was a fun exercise in shaping, and it’s pretty symmetical.  All while posing a smaller chance of damaging my nether regions. The screw spins freely (with a generous helping of beeswax) and clamps down tightly.  I’ve actually been using it as my main vise for some small dovetailing.

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Way less pokey.

Also, the bullet catches for the DIY bench dogs finally arrived, and although I was a little off in my drilling, they work just fine.  Using the dogs, though, made me realize that I need one more holdfast hole, on the far left of the bench.  I conveniently have one more bullet catch and some extra dowel.  Crazy how that works out.

But more on that another time.

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Something Borrowed, Something Blue

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably already seen the finished crochet.  I’m very pleased with how it came out.  The screw holds like crazy and the EWP wedge doesn’t seem redundant.  But if I could do it again, I’d screw the wedge in from the outside.  I’ll have to remove the crochet to replace the wedge.

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Still no screw handle.

I struggled a bit with the placement of the crochet relative to the rest of the bench.  I finally settled on centering the screw over the leg, so the screw functions an awful lot like a shoulder vise.  Holdfasts in the leg, at 9 1/2″, 16″ and 22.5″ below the benchtop, respectively, support the work.

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I used 6″ 3/8 lag screws, and I think I burnt out my cordless drill in the process.

I did not incorporate a sliding deadman into this bench and I’m starting to think I should have.  I could retrofit one or make a moving deadman that locates on dog holes in the lower stretcher.  But I have another, more elegant solution in mind.  I need to do some patent research first.

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As of right now, I’d need a clamp to keep the right side from sagging.

All in all, I’m calling this one a win. It works.  I didn’t waste any materials.  And it didn’t take that long to throw together.

Now to make that screw handle.

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That was Easy!

So it only took about an hour to knock together the bulk of the new crochet.

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Still haven’t made that screw hub.

Before I bolt it to the benchtop, however, I’d like to test a theory.  Crochets without screws work via a wedging action.  Even though mine has a screw, I’d still like to test out a wedge.  So I’m making a softwood insert.

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This is not the actual insert, but you get the idea.

I’ll likely just nail the wedge in place.  If it works, great.  If not, I’ll pry it out.  And when it wears out, I’ll pry it out and replace it.  And wear out, it will, because it’s Eastern White Pine, a species I picked over Douglas Fir because it won’t mar the work.

Does any of this sound crazy?  It’s starting to feel crazy.

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Getting on with it

Having admitted defeat, it only took me a little while to literally and figuratively pick up the pieces.  After salvaging the wooden peg on the failed face vise for use as another wooden screw, I had a choice: put the jaw aside for a rainy day, or use it right away.  Well, you know what they say: nothing gets the blood flowing like hand-ripping American hard woods of greater than 2″ thickness.

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Or, whatever.

I ended up with a board that is 3.25″ wide, 18.25″ long and 2″ thick.  A single pass through the thicknesser to clean up the saw cut and all that’s left is to cross cut it and glue it up.

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I’ll figure something out for the board with the holes.

What am I making, you ask?  I’m making that crochet, with the wooden screw.  Like I should have the first time before wasting five hours on a face vise that doesn’t hold.

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So far I’m at about 30 minutes, including the ripping.

All that’s left to do (after easing the corners) is drill and tap the hole in the beam and pre-drill for the lag bolts which will mount it to the face of the benchtop.

I’ve got a surprise planned for the hub on the wooden screw.  Much more understated than the last time.

But that will have to wait for now.

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Glamour Shots

Does anyone remember glamour shots?  Those airbrushed-to-all-hell personal photos that could make anyone look good?  They were like the Barbara Walters interview of photos.  I’m sure they still exist, because human vanity still exists.

I ask for a very specific reason (and the title of this post is not arbitrary).  I finished the front vise on my new workbench.  And it’s beautiful.

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Soft focus and natural light only.

Aesthetically, it’s everything it’s supposed to be.  The lines are clean, the color match on the jaw and hub are fantastic, and the walnut handle offers a nice contrast.  And look how perfectly it cinches down to the benchtop!

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There is even a bit of wain to give it a rustic look.

But looks aren’t everything.  Truth is: the vise doesn’t work very well.  There is too much play in the maple guide peg, so the vice wracks in all directions.  It works okay with wide stock that can sit on the screw and the peg while I work an edge, but it’s useless for cinching narrow pieces at the top of the jaw.  It also works okay as a crochet for very wide stock that extends below the bottom of the law, but the maple peg wedges itself in the guide hole (like a holdfast) and it’s a pain to free up.

Could I find a metal collar to tighten the guide hole, or otherwise fiddle with it some more, and make the vise work better?  Probably.  Will I?  No.  It’s a sunk cost at this point.  I can re-purpose the jaw for something else and there is nothing wrong with the screw (although I would bet the hub gets trimmed down before it sees use again).  There’s a reason the vise nut is attached to the bench with only hide glue.

One of the hardest things in woodworking, and in life generally, is admitting failure and moving on.  My attempt at a completely wooden front vise has failed.

My heat gun and I are moving on.

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Head Over Heels

Every time I get to a certain point on a project, I ask myself the same question: should I stick with the plan or go in a completely different direction?

I had built this whole project with the idea of putting the video game cases on the bottom and the drawer for controllers on the top.  But that would be stupid, because the drawer would be above eye level.  My solution: flip it 180 degrees.  So it goes in a literal different direction.

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Because why not?

The cleats are more for hanging than anything, and it’s not like they are asymmetrical anyway (having foregone a french cleat in my design).  With the drawer on the bottom, the bottom shelf can immediately be used for holding controllers (because the cleat acts as a stop).  Plus, the game cases fit so tightly on that shelf it doesn’t matter whether the clean (which is also a stop) is on the top or the bottom.

Problem solved.  Not it just needs some paint, before I whip up two more as presents.

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Small Victories

Sometimes I get a little impatient in my woodworking.  Case in point, a random dovetailed pine box I had always meant to section off for nail and screw storage.  Instead, it’s become a rabbeted and nailed box.

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Most of one, anyway.

But I started nailing it together before I cut the rabbets for the dividers.  Lucky for me, I had a stroke of genius: make a single shelf (for a drawer) and hang it on the wall.  And what do you know, it not only fits console game cases on the bottom shelf, but the drawer will be large enough to hold console game controllers.

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Amazing how that works out.

Since I had already nailed on two sides before I started cutting the rabbets, I couldn’t use a chisel other than in the vertical position.  My solution: use a block plane blade.  Surprisingly, the joint fits tight enough for the application.

I will post some pictures of the finished project when I’m done.

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