Ruminations

This Time of Year

Around these parts (Fairfield County, Connecticut), it’s warming up. This time of year, I’m finally able to drag my workbench outside and get real some woodworking done. My outside workbench, now with new slab and tool tray, is in fact getting quite a workout. I can get a bunch done with just a pair of holdfasts and a few clamps to secure the work. Proper vises are great. But they are not absolutely necessary if you’re not cutting English style dovetails.

Nice to see the slab and tray matching so well, though.

One of my goals for this year is mastering tapered tenon joinery for staked furniture. Or at least becoming facile with it. I have experimented with reamer and tapered tenon cutter before, but in situations where strength was not a primary concern. Chairs and stools are higher leverage projects (literally and figuratively) than credenza bases and side tables.

So with a nice weekend, I might as well make some chips on the lawn with a drawknife and spokeshave to prepare some leg stock for refinement. I resolved to take the tapers further than I usually do off the drawknife. I also spent more time with the spokeshave before introducing the tapered tenon cutter. I’m not sure it was faster than doing more rough work, but the results are more consistent than my prior work.

Like so.

These legs are ash, which was split off from a small timber that checked badly while it was drying I’d have preferred the leg blanks be closer to 2″ square, but you work with that you’ve got (these are 1.65″ square). I’ll add some stretchers between the pairs of legs for extra rigidity.

Aligning the legs for the eventual stretcher.

I am also working through some old boards, some from as early as 2014 that I’ve been dragging from shop to shop all these years. Among that is a red oak 2×12 (nominal size 1.75 x 11.25). It’s about 65 inches long and I could never bring myself to cut it down into smaller boards. So as I figure out how to be precise with compound angled joinery, I might as well make another low bench. The top had cupped and bowed pretty badly so by the time it was flattened, it was only 1.5″ thick. You may not think half an inch of red oak means that much, but it does. This is a sitting bench, not a low workbench, so the little bit of flex means added comfort. But if this were to live in the shop, it would need a 2×4 glued and screwed to the underside for extra support.

Ideally, the top would be thicker than the legs.

I do all my boring and reaming by hand with a brace, so it’s much harder to overshoot an angle or a depth with the reamer that way. But it’s still important to check your angles and go slow. Doing so will ensure the exit holes on the top (ie, visible) of the seat are of consistent size and shape. In the end, some irregularities aren’t fatal to the structural soundness of the piece. But looking nice is important too.

So this is a very long way of saying, if it’s nice outside, I will drag a workbench outside and get a tan while doing some rougher work. It’s harder to rake shavings off the lawn than to sweep them up off the floor.

But such is life.

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One for Me

I wonder sometimes if others have similar woodworking experiences to me. Namely, that just after finishing a piece for myself, a friend or relative will ask for it instead.

Now I try to live my life as Tolkien describes Aule, the Smith (“the delight and pride of Aulë is in the deed of making, and in the thing made, and neither in possession nor in his own mastery; wherefore he gives and hoards not, and is free from care, passing ever on to some new work.”). And I like to think that quote describes me pretty well. So many pieces end up in others’ hands, even those pieces purpose built for me, if the giftee seems particularly keen on it.

For that reason, I have been sans dining table for some time. Every time I finish one, it seems it’s claimed within a few weeks. But not this time. At least not yet.

This one is about as utilitarian as I can imagine.

The style itself feels a bit tacky to me. It’s a home center butcher block tabletop (birch) and the legs are poplar. Nice, clear, straight grained poplar (left over from the base of my Moravian Workbench), but still. The table is an inch too low (at 27.75″) because I was just using what’s on hand. The legs themselves are round tenoned and wedged into thick blocks. Essentially making leg brackets. Which are just screwed into the underside with torx deck screws.

Utilitarian, indeed.

I’ve been joking on social media that it’s a lazy table (third laziest, in fact). But I don’t think that’s quite right. The legs themselves are tapered octagons. And the mortises are bored at 12.5 degrees and when attached have about a 30 degree sight line. I didn’t make a full base or dovetail the legs into the tabletop or something like that. But it still took some thought and problem solving.

I really like the way the table sits with this rake and splay. No newborn deer look from any angle.

But that’s not really the point. Calling it lazy seems to me a bit like gatekeeping. And that’s not something I support in any field, especially hobby woodworking. All that should matter is that a person made a thing and had fun doing it (or at least is pleased with the result). I personally don’t use a table saw or a router table, but I also personally don’t give a fuck if someone else does.

Although I sometimes wish that I had a lathe.

There are enough litmus tests in this life. My only one is “do you have a thing that you love to do?” And as long as that thing is not hunting endangered animals for sport, you do you, bud.

And if you do hunt endangered animals for sport, you can fuck all the way off and unfollow me.

Please and thank you.

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Batchin’ ’em Out

If you’ve been here more than once, you know I’m a hand tool guy. To be clear, I do have power tools that complement primarily hand tool work. My lunchbox thickness planer does the donkey work once there is a tried and true reference face and a squared reference edge off the jointer plane. A double bevel compound miter saw quickly cuts stock to rough length. And you can pry my benchtop hollow chisel mortiser from my cold, dead hands. I also have a small drill press (that at this point is used exclusively for accurate drawboring), a collection of battery-powered DIY tools (a drill driver, a circular saw and a random orbital sander), and a trim router kit for when I’ve truly given up on things.

But doing hand work efficiently is more than just leveraging power when, as and if it makes sense. When there are multiple parts to cut (there always are), it helps to think like a one-person assembly line. Each step in the assembly line is a repeated task. Sure, variety is a the spice of life. But just like a blade and fence setup at the table saw, you want to set it once, do all the cuts, then move on. It’s the same thing for body mechanics at the workbench.

So let’s talk about tapered octagon legs by hand.

The first two tapers on each piece (on opposite sides) go pretty quickly in the face vise. If you work to opposite sides, the other profile is still square and therefore easily held in the vise (in my case, a leg vise). Do that eight times.

If you have a twin screw vise that can hold tapers securely, great. Stay at the face vise. But I don’t, so I move to the tail vise. Pinched between the dogs, the legs sit flush to the bench on the tapers I had just planed to make a square taper on all faces. Do that eight times.

And then you have this.

Now lay out the octagon(s). If you have a lathe and will taper across the entire length, you’re nearly done at the workbench. But I don’t have a lathe and I like to start the taper where the round tenon ends, so in addition to the octagon at the foot, I also lay out an octagon on the top where the tenon will go. A cradle jig that goes in the tail vise holds the work and I taper from square down to octagon at the foot and also from square down to an octagon at the top. Do that thirty-two times (16 long tapers and 16 short tapers).

And you end up with something like this.

That short taper makes it easier to center the round tenon cutter I have for my drill driver, btw. I use a 1 1/2″ tenon cutter, but that’s just a rough cut. With chisel, spokeshave and rasp I take that round tenon down to 1 3/8″ to ensure it’s centered on the blank (it rarely is straight off the tenon cutter). It also helps to bore a 1 3/8″ hole in some hardwood (or at least wood that is harder than your blank) with the bit you’ll use for the mortise to test the fit now and again. Do this four times.

Almost done now! Yes, that’s a Mets colored Nalgene. #LFGM

Finally, I go back to the corners (where they were tapered from square to octagon) and plane in the full tapered octagon from the tenon to the foot. I find taking the facets down evenly first (so the facet is parallel from the tenon to the foot), and then incrementally increasing the facet width at the top near the tenon by counting strokes, works best. Again, if you taper the full length, this step is unnecessary.

The finished leg.

It goes without saying, but I did one leg first to work out the process and then batched out the other three with the process described above. Are they perfect? Of course not. But we are not machines (and should not strive to be machines). And I enjoy the hand made aesthetic far more than machine-wrought perfection.

Okay, I lied. I made a second one to test the process. I’m actually at step 2 for the other two legs.

There is a great rhythm one can get into when batching out parts at the bench. Hehe, batching.

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Most Important Woodworking Website

There is a website I go to (almost) every day when I’m in the shop. A website with the most important and useful woodworking insights. Truly, it is an indispensable resource for my woodworking needs.

That website: http://www.carbidedepot.com/formulas-trigright.asp

A trigonometry calculator.

Angles are everywhere; make sure you know how long to rough cut a board.

This is not a joke. Imagine rough cutting a board too short and only learning it after you’re trying to level the legs.

A travesty, for sure.

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New Year’s Day, 2022

Another year has passed. As is my heathen wont, I went to bed early last night, stone sober and well hydrated, and hit the shop early this morning. I like to begin each year on my own terms. And then ride out the downhill trajectory from there.

In advance of my regular January vacation, I’ve been making a “gentleman’s tool chest” for a core set of hand tools. Now I’m no gentleman (or so I’ve been told), but as I understand it, the “gentleman” refers simultaneously to (x) a non-professional woodworker and (y) the smaller set of tools a non-professional joiner or cabinetmaker would have in their chest. So maybe I am a gentleman.

This particular tool chest is a modest 25″ long, 11″ deep and 11″ high and will have 2 sliding tills. The planes and sharpening gear are french fit into the tool well and there won’t be too much lose gear rattling around. It’s also intended to be a general around-the-house toolbox holding my nicest spare tools so it will move around a fair bit.

Still one more sliding till to make.

In any tool storage build, like in life, there are compromises. For example, there is not any room for joinery saws in this chest, but I have modified a 10 tpi rip saw (it crosscuts too) and a 6 tpi rip saw to have shorter plates. I say modified; I cutoff about 5 inches from the toe of each saw with an angle grinder and filed off the burrs. The shorter plates are stiff enough for precise sawing as needed (and everything gets cleaned up with chisel or router plane anyway).

It’s also rabbeted and nailed, not dovetailed. Cauls help keep everything flat when nailing together.

The full kit this holds is as follows:

  • Planes: No. 5 jack plane, No. 3 smoothing plane, Low-angle block plane, small router plane
  • Saws: 10 tpi rip cut panel saw (18″ plate): 6 tpi rip cut panel saw (18″ plate)
  • Chisels: 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, 1 inch bench chisels, carver’s mallet
  • Marking and measuring: 12″ combination square, 8″ machinist square, wheel marking gauge, 12 foot tape measure, folding marking knife, mechanical pencils
  • Boring: Two jaw, short sweep brace, plus hex adapter, large diameter adjustable auger bit, drill bit set, hand countersink
  • Sharpening: 120, 220, 1200 grit diamond plates, side clamp honing guide and setup block, plus glass cleaner and jojoba oil
  • Miscellaneous: Warrington-pattern hammer, slotted and phillips screwdrivers, cork sanding block, foam ear plugs (lots of these)

I’m sure there is something I’m forgetting (I can supplement this later), but I find the above set of tools is everything one needs for general woodworking projects that aren’t intended to be the finest furniture. I can take rough lumber to dimension with these tools and do crisp joinery by hand without too much fuss. I will likely make or purchase a medium router plane to fit this chest, as well as a set of wooden winding sticks and a wooden straightedge.

As I write this, the second till is glued and nailed and drying in the shop. So that means only one thing: it’s lid time.

And that’s the point at which every tool chest build starts to get tedious.

Happy New Year, everyone!

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Face Marks

This is something I’ve wanted to post for a while, but I’ve been concerned it would come off as snooty or elitist. But I’ve finally got the nerve and here is is:

Am I the only one who takes to heart that the face mark (from the Latin: facies) denoting the reference face of a board (i.e., a tried and trued surface) should be written like the top half of a cursive, lower case “f“?

Like so, shown is corresponding square mark on the reference edge.

Maybe I’m just an elitist prick, but the rando squiggles you see in some woodworking media infuriate me. In fact, I’m not sure which is worse: the rando curly cue that doesn’t even make it to the reference edge or the backwards (!) “f” that is otherwise correct.

Is there some pre-Industrial French spelling convention I’m not aware of that F’s are written backward when not accompanied by a vowel with an accent grav or something?

There seems to be near unanimity in the woodworking community that use of anything other than traditional marriage marks should be discouraged because it can lead to assembly errors, so why don’t more people care about this?

This has bothered me for a long time. I may not be the best woodworker, but when I make a face mark, it looks like a god damned “f”.

Thanks for listening. I am prepared to lose readers and followers over this issue.

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I’ve Figured it Out!

I call myself “The Apartment Woodworker”.  But, really, nowadays, I’m the “small space woodworker”.  Which doesn’t sound as cool, but it still pretty accurate (my workshop where my workbench and tool chest reside is a 12×13 bedroom).   But after all these years of woodworking (8ish?), I’ve finally figured it out: the setup for woodworking in an apartment or other small space like a proper woodworker.

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This is literally the apex of everything I’ve worked towards.

Without hyperbole, I feel like I’ve reached the apex of the intellectual exercise of small space woodworking.  It starts with the Apartment Workbench, which is constructed entirely from 10 or less home center 2×4’s and built basically like a heavy-duty sawbench.  Although the saw-bench construction might make the bench a bit tippy if the legs are too far in from the ends, the vertical legs might have a benefit: the design makes it easy to clamp onto the gussets.

When you add a couple of shop made sawhorses in the Japanese style, some F-style clamps, and maybe a strip of 3/4 plywood for a tool tray, you’ve apparently got an actual workbench.  The gusset on the legs clamps to the cross beam of the sawhorse (both front and back) and that’s your workbench.  Some lumber stored across the lower stretchers would add to the mass of the bench, but it’s not strictly necessary.  And I’d probably add some non-skin disks to the sawhorses to make sure you’re not sliding around on a slick, laminate apartment floor.

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The legs barely extend past the sawhorse.

But, all in all, it works as well as I could hope.  It’s not perfect, as the combined height of a typical sawhorse (29″) and a 2×4 slab (3.25″ or so) is uncomfortable for much besides hand planing.  But one can always clamp on whatever workholding you need beyond the palm, such as a moxon vise.  I prefer a bench around 34.75″ high for most work (I’m exactly 5’10”), btw.

But, as far as I can tell, this is absolutely serviceable for a small space woodworking bench.  It’s basically a Japanese planing bench, with some Western brute force adjustments.

Although I would recommend chopping mortises at the back end over the back sawhorse.  For whatever reason, it jumps less when you chop on the back than the front.

Maybe it was just the grass.

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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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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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