Ruminations

Alone with My Thoughts

At my workbench, alone with my thoughts, I hew and shape, my vision translated to being.

But corners are cut and compromises made, as sacrifices to the constraints of time and space.

Though none would be the wiser, a portion of my dream gets cast aside like shavings from the plane.

And so I scream at the abyss, the work of my hands to outlast me and my vanity.

I make, but am not jealous of the thing, moving always to a new task.

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Finding beauty, in unexpected places.

A poem, by The Apartment Woodworker.

How to Finish with Shellac

I have little experience with finishes that aren’t Milk Paint or Danish Oil.  It’s a shortcoming; I know.  But I’ve been experimenting with shellac finish on the little box I made.  Here is, as near as I can tell, a fail-safe process for finishing a project with Shellac.

Step 1:  Brush on coat of sanding sealer, then sand with 220 grit sandpaper when dry.

Step 2:  Apply 2-5 coats of shellac, thinned to approximately 50-50 with denatured alcohol, sanding with 220 grit sand paper between coats.

Step 3:  Agonize over puddling and corning and consider throwing entire project away.

Step 4:  Remove shellac with denatured alcohol and paint entire project with milk paint in shame.

Step 5:  Lock project away in closet never to be seen again.

Has anyone had a similar experience?

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Merry Christmas and Whatnot (2016)

It’s Christmas, again. Happens every year, just about this time. 

Here at The Apartment Woodworker, I’m excited for my next mini project: another interlocking plant stand to match the original. 

Solid as a rock.


They are fun to make and involve two of the three basic joints (mortise and tenon; lap joint [a form of housing joint]). Best of all, they make use of some extra whitewood stud offcuts. 

The best use of a leftover 45″ offcut I can find.


I hope everyone has a happy and healthy holiday. 

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I Think I Figured It Out (Thank You!)

Thanks to everyone who gave me suggestions about why a leg wasn’t seated squarely in its joint.  After quadruple checking my combination square for squareness (it is), it turns out the culprit was human error.

First, the shoulder isn’t perfectly seated after all.  The mortise canted ever so slightly inward, but the toothed underside of the benchtop hid the minute gap between the slab and the shoulder of the mortise.  I corrected  this (with a bit of paring inside the mortise) and the joint still (thankfully) fits very snugly.  The canted mortise was about 75% of the problem.

Second, there is a very slight hollow where I was resting my square.  It must be left over from traversing the underside of the benchtop.  It runs down a couple thou toward the mortise, which doesn’t really show with a long straightedge across the whole width.  But with a small machinist’s square, it’s plain as day.  Not worth fussing over, I think.

Oh well.  At least I got blog two posts out of it.

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Slippery Slope

I’ve been watching a ton of New Yankee Workshop lately. Norm Abram is the Bob Ross of woodworking; and Christopher Schwarz is right: Norm is hilarious. Roman Ogee, not Roman Orgy. Lolz. 

It’s gotten me thinking though: what if I had Norm’s signature tool, a radial arm saw?  It goes against everything I believe in (not really).  But I do have a double bevel compound miter saw, so would halflaps on that be any slower or worse than doing it by hand?  Probably not, and as long as I cut the shoulder by hand (so I knew it was perfectly square), wouldn’t hogging out the waste by power tool be okay?  I already use a thickness planer on boards I made S2S by hand. 

This will need paring with both a chisel and a router plane.

I’ll give it a try and see how slippery the slope really is. 

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Lock and Load

I’ve been rapid fire finishing smaller projects, in the hope of clearing out some space in the shop. 

First, I finished (literally and figuratively) my travel-size tool chest. It’s not a coffin. 

But I would be okay being buried in it.

Then, I completed the first of two Japanese saw horses. The second one is in process, and I will probably make two more in short order. 

I will skip the bevel on the feet next time.

Next, the rolling cart for my new Craftsman tool chest went together rather easily. It’s solid, if unspectacular.

I plan to add a saw till under the lid with rare earth magnets.

Finally, a hanging corner shelf for my bedroom was an exercise in directional planing. After some espresso stain, it may become an upcoming Basic Project.

I’ve never had studs to screw into before.

There are a few other things to clear out as well, but nothing woodworking related.  The shop feels less cluttered, at least. 

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Crippling Self-doubt

Woodworking has been a struggle, lately.  I’m at a point where I need my thickness planer to progress any further into several projects, and it’s just so far away.  The dovetailed carcase for the new traveling tool chest is filled to the brim with S2S versions of its remaining pieces (among other boards).   I just need to pass them through the magic lunchbox and get on with it.  That’s on the agenda for the holiday weekend, also.

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It’s slightly morbid, when you really think about it.

But I still wonder if I’m going about this all wrong.  The size of the new tool chest seems right, but do I really need a full dust seal around the lid?  Won’t oak battens work just fine?  But that would waste a couple board feet of quarter-sawn white pine.  I guess I can use it for french fitting dividers.

It goes on and on.  These types of questions gnaw at me constantly.  I’ve only been woodworking for about 4 years, less than three with hand tools.  What the hell do I know?

Then, every now and again, I get some reaffirmation.  On my new workbench, I organically came to the same conclusion as a previous craftsman, making the front left leg larger than the other three, allowing for a larger tenon at the joint that incurs the most stress.  And speaking of tool chests, a woodworker with credentials beyond my own seems to work out of a chest that looks an awful lot like my first attempt at a traveling tool chest.

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A size comparison.  Please ignore the soft backlight from the patio door.

I don’t crave the approval of others.  But I, like everyone else, need some confirmation once in a while that I’m not totally off base.  And that confirmation keeps the crippling self-doubt at bay for another week or two.

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Apropos of Nothing

My name is James.  I am a hand-tool woodworker and this is my workbench.

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In all its glory.

I only mention it because I plan to finish the Stent Panel workbench over the holiday weekend, so this may be a last-ish hurrah for my beautiful little clamp-on slab.  It has performed quite admirably over the last year or so, and it deserves a retrospective of its own.

Made of Hard Maple, its overall dimensions are 48″ long x 9″ deep x 1.75″ thick.  The bench uses two Veritas aluminum planing stops (one of which functions also as a bench hook on the right side of the bench) for general workholding.  There is also a dog hole for a Grammercy Tools holdfast on the right side of the bench.  The whole thing clamps onto my sturdy dining table using angle iron and ordinary F-style clamps.  It’s finished in two coats of natural Danish Oil (Watco, obvi).

I always meant to add a crochet and peg system for working on edge grain.  Heck, I still might (using some brass shim stock for the pegs).  Most of my edge grain planing is done with free standing boards (for more tactile feedback), but anything that wouldn’t stand on its own gets clamped onto the front face with some F-style clamps.  That works okay, but it’s no replacement for a face vise or crochet system.

The slab has served me well and stayed very true over its life.  It’s planed to be flat when clamped down to the dining table, so if the slab finds new life (as the top of a child’s workbench, perhaps), it will need to be re-trued.

And, apropos of nothing, I bought River a climbing rig that hangs on the back of a door.  It’s pretty sweet, but it makes me want to build a better one myself.

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But it should be fine in the meantime.

Happy 4th of July, everyone.  Grill some meats and make some sawdust (not at the same time).

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Why I Can’t Have Anything Nice

I’m pondering a new feature on http://www.theapartmentwoodworker.com. A weekly “Things I Learned This Week” segment. Cautionary tales for the small space woodworker.

This week’s entry: when driving nails into unsupported face grain, pre-drill as deep as you can.

For the new travel tool chest, I nailed on the rot strips (instead of screwing them on like I would normally). The nails (Tremont fine finish) are about 1/4″ shorter than the combined thickness of the rot strips and the floorboards, prior to setting. Wanting the nails to bite hard, I only pre-drilled the rot strips themselves and not the floorboards. Fine finish nails taper dramatically, so it should have worked.

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And it looks fantastic from this angle.

What actually happened was each nail pushed fibers up and through the floorboards, splintering the face grain. Not a structural issue, but an annoying cosmetic blemish.

As a result, the tool chest floor is getting an adhesive-backed cork lining.  They say the sign of a good woodworker is not the absence of mistakes, but the ability to hide the mistakes made.

As an alternative to further pre-drilling, I may next time drive the rot strips first, before attaching the floorboards to the carcase. That should eliminate any unsupported fibers and give me the fastening power I’m after.

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I’ve Said it Before

And I’ll say it again: I never know how big something will be until it’s knocked together.

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24″ wide x 12″ deep x 11″ tall, to be exact.

They may be a P.I.T.A. to store, but I’m always glad to have the band-clamps seen above.  The half-pins on the top front corners (i.e., the most visible corners) of the carcase don’t fit tightly to the tail board, so I’m cinching it all together as the glue dries.  Fingers crossed the glue holds long enough for me to drive a headless brad into each tail board to close up the gap permanently.

If that doesn’t work, Plan B is to use wood filler and paint the top rim.  I’m putting a proper dust seal on this chest, so there will be plenty of clearance for a couple coats of milk paint.  If this were a chest with a battened lid (like the traveling tool tote), as a matter of course the top rim would be painted to protect against the constantly slamming.

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Editor’s Note:  Success!

Next up: ripping bards for the lid and the skirts. And maybe making a saw till.  This is another travel-size tool chest, FYI.  Check out tomorrow’s post for more info.

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