Small Projects

Made with Love

It’s good to have goals.  Not just deadlines, but true motivation for doing something right and well.  In my woodworking life, my greatest motivation tends to come from projects that will become gifts.  In this case, the Japanese tool box for my buddy, Brady.

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I think I’ll leave it unfinished, so it ages naturally.

I am glad to have embarked on this project.  The joinery (rabbets and nails, with a little bit of glue) was a lovely break from my usual dovetail routine.  It would be a good project for someone just starting out in woodworking.  And by careful wood selection, I barely dented my pile of reclaimed mahogany (the entire box used only two 36″ boards, plus some scraps I had lying around).

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The lid is friction fit (both in the case and under the end battens), so no need for locks or wedges.

It had been a while since I “dovetailed” nails.  I don’t know if I hit exactly 7º, but it was close enough.  The bottom should stay put for a very long time under ordinary use.

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There are always a few french marks that don’t steam out.  Glad these are where only the bugs will see them.

There is nothing I would do differently on this project, which is refreshing.  Except, maybe, making the box a little bit shallower.  With 7.75″ of clearance inside (when the lid is in place), this is probably more of a picnic basket than a proper tool box.  I thought about adding a removable till, but that seemed like overkill.  These things are meant to be stuffed.

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Nice and open are always preferable, in my view.

My favorite design detail on this is the recessed ends, which allowed me to add wooden handles (from softer Eastern White Pine, for comfort). Because what’s a portable storage container for if it hurts to hold?

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A little contrast is good.

Conceivably, these recesses could also permit someone to clamp this to a table.  If I made a stouter lid (perhaps replacing the battens with a rabbet around a much thicker slab lid), this might even be sturdy enough to be a little workbench in a pinch.

But I think something dovetailed would be better suited for that.  Oh well.  Back to the bench, I guess.

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Better Late than Never

I’ve come very late to the Japanese tool box party.  I already have a traveling tool chest, so up until recently, making this tool box would have been a purely intellectual exercise.  But a dear friend of mine is starting the house hunt, and every good home needs a good tool box.  Plus, it was his birthday recently.

I dug into my pile of reclaimed mahogany for the case.  Although nominally 3/4, the stock gets to about 5/8 when tried and trued.  This should make the case light enough overall. While the recipient is not likely to use the tool box for woodworking tools, I roughed out the dimensions based on my traveling kit of tools (seen below).  The interior dimensions of 8″ x 17″ are enough to fit a No. 5 plane, a couple of medium backsaws, brace and bit, and eggbeater drill.  8″ tall may seem a bit excessive, but after piling in a tool roll, mallet, hammer, nails and other miscellany, the tool box would be quite full for my purposes.  And don’t forget, it loses 5/8″ or so of height due to the lid being inset.

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That’s my “new” No. 5.  It has quickly become my favorite plane.

Cards on the table, I’m pretty sick of dovetails and their finger joint cousins.  The design calls for recesses at the ends will house the wooden handles.  So this was a perfect application for dadoes and nails.  A tightly-fitting housing joint can be just as satisfying as their interlocking counterparts.  And the tactile feeling of cross-grain shavings from a freshly-sharpened router plane is divine.

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Glamour shot of the joint after glue and nails.

Each joint, which was fit to require hammer persuasion, gets glued and secured with die forged nails from Rivierre.  I took great care to properly size the end grain during the glue up.  Taken together, the tight joint, the careful glue-up and the reinforcing nails form a very strong joint that will hold up to any wear and tear this box will likely see.  And it’s pretty from the outside.

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I keep track of french marks to steam out before finishing.

I don’t have any 1″ mahogany scraps and didn’t feel like laminating any, so I instead used Eastern White Pine for the wooden handles.  There is a slight bevel on the underside of each, which helps get a firm grip.

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Just a couple of degrees, for comfort.

The case ends were somehow slightly proud of the handles, so I shot them down to flush.  It was awkward on the shooting board and uncomfortable to hold the plane.  I still have the bruise on my palm from the wing of the plane sole.  Never again.

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The crochet is perfect for final fettling.

More on it next week, but I have since attached the case battens and prepared the lid and lid battens.  It’s unclear to me what to use for the bottom boards.  I can certainly resaw some 1/4″ mahogany.

But that starts to feel like actual work.

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Winging It

I am usually a meticulous planner.  Projects go through many iterations of drawings (nearly always to scale) before the design is finalized.  I know, down to the 1/16″, what each part should be.  I live my everyday life much the same way.   Then, just like in my everyday life, I throw all of that planning right out the window and have at it completely by memory.

But the two-toned console table project is extreme even for me.  I have no written plans or cut list.  Just two measurements to work from:  (i) it needs to be 33″ tall overall and (ii) the hairpin legs are 18″ tall by themselves.  The width of the table (21″) and its depth (12″) was dictated entirely by what scraps of 5/4″ x 12″ Eastern White Pine were laying around.  The height of the dovetailed carcase (15″) was derived through exceedingly complicated mathematics that I will not bore everyone with by reproducing in print.

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Reverse engineering at its best.

One detail I like about this project is the case back, which is shiplapped mahogany that is rabbeted into the case.  I don’t own a proper plow plane, so I pulled out a restored 7/8″ tongue and groove plane to plow the groove.

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Takes a little getting used to the grip so you don’t cut yourself on the opposite blade.

This project also gave my moving fillister plane a real workout cutting all the rabbets and shiplaps for the case back.  It performed very well, but needed a quick resharpening before the end.  I would be remiss if I didn’t note that I’m not super pleased with the roundovers on the individual back boards, though.  My No. 4 hollow dug in a bit on some swirling grain, and I’m grateful this part of the project will be covered in books or shadow most of the time.

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I like high fantasy, science and woodworking.

All that’s left to do before assembly is to rabbet in the mahogany inlay that will form the groove for the sliding door.  There should be just enough room for a 3/4″ wide inlay (perhaps 3/8″ deep, to accommodate the groove from a 3/4″ tongue and groove plane.  I have not decided on whether the door will be pine, mahogany or something else.  I want it to be light in color, so perhaps some bookmatched quarter-sawn maple with particular hologram figuring.

And, because it’s funny to me, I took a picture of the box with tools in it.  I am sure this will infuriate everyone who thinks all I make is tool chests (and they’d be right, really).  I may one day pull off the hairpin legs and slap on some chest lifts and a lid.  But that day is not today.

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This thing is beefy and large enough to hold a basic set of tools.

The table is destined for my office at work.  Some books and a crystal decanter with a set of single old fashioned glasses, methinks.

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Mixing it Up

I’ve been cutting some very English-style dovetails (i.e., thin pins) lately.  So for a new scrap bin project (i.e., a mid-century modern side table), I decided to mix it up a bit.  This project goes in a decidedly-Eastern European direction, with pins and tails of even size (other than the half pins, which are about 1/2 the pin/tail size at the base.

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I left a little extra width on the mahogany and will plane it down later.

Eastern White Pine and Mahogany are interesting woods when intertwined with dovetails.  One is very soft, the other is just hard enough to take advantage of it.  Hard enough, as well, to let me correct a mistake.  I got my wires crossed when marking the waste on one pin board and my first couple saw strokes were on the wrong side of the line.  I caught myself in time for it not to be fatal, but it would not have been so if I hadn’t gotten into a recent habit.

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Mahogany’s interlocking grain is also helping here.

For most of my time cutting dovetails over these last five+ years, I’ve set the base line at pretty much exactly the thickness of the mating board.  This shortens cleanup time on the finished piece, allowing me to sometimes take a single pass with a smoothing plane on the finished box.  But ever since the carcase glue-up on my English floor chest, though, I’ve changed my technique and intentionally set the baseline with an extra 1/8″ or so.

For whatever reason, my baselines on that English floor chest were too shallow by about 1/16″ all around.  This meant a significant amount of actual stock removal on the assembled carcase just to bring everything flush.  It was no fun whatsoever.  So as a happy byproduct of my new practice, the kerf shown above is not deep enough to show after the pins are flushed.  Or at least it won’t show once the tail board is dressed on both sides before glue-up.

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Here’s a better look at those beefy tail recesses.

I made a slight miscalculation on the design of this piece.  There will be two grooves cut in the pine pieces to accept a single sliding door (half width).  But pine is far too soft for the groove to hold up over time, so I need some way to reinforce it.  Perhaps I can inlay some mahogany and then cut the groove in that.

We’ll see.

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Extreme Heresy

In making a little box to hold a Christmas present for a friend, I took the opportunity to experiment on how best to offend all the woodworking purists at once.  So I came up with half tails on the sides and a giant pin on the front and back.

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In 5/8 reclaimed mahogany when the box is only 7 x 7.

The bottom is rabbeted into the sides only, and oriented so the long grain runs front back.  I did this to avoid cutting stopped rabbets on the front and back.  The mahogany in question is very old and very dry (read: prone to chipping).  What looks like a gap on the bottom left shoulder above is actually just some cosmetic chipping.

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There was a little piece of metal somewhere in the wood that nicked my jack plane blade.

I have a bunch more of this reclaimed mahogany.  Most of it has cupped somewhat, and it comes to about 5/8 thickness when re-tried.  It’s good practice on hardwood dovetails and will be the accent wood in my new tool chest.

Merry Christmas, and whatnot.

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Small Improvements

What would be an appropriate inaugural project for the finished moving fillister plane?  How about a hardwood saw till for my dutch tool chest?

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I love the Veritas A2 replacement blade on my vintage Bedrock No. 7.

The prototype, which has performed very well these past months, is pine.  The new version is mahogany, a harder wood that I appreciate more and more and I learn to work it.  There will be a new home for the prototype.  And no, not the burn pile.

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The spacing is perfect so it will, if nothing else, persist as a pattern.

It occurs to me that without a tail vise, I probably need a sticking board for these types of tasks.  I did devise a way to hold down the work to cut the rabbets, involving a scrap of wood, some sandpaper backed plywood and a holdfast.  So, basically, a sticking board.

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That’s a Crucible Tool holdfast, btw.

Doing this project showed me that fine, cross-grain shavings may bind in the throat of the plane.  I’ve looked at other examples, though, and the throat size doesn’t seem to be drastically out of the norm.

It’s just something I’ll learn to live with, I guess.

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Front and Center

None of us are as young as they used to be.  I’m in my mid thirties now and I don’t stoop over the work as well as I used to.  As a mostly hand tool woodworker that dovetails more often than not, I’ve gotten accustomed to a clamp-on, twin screw vise (what many call a “Moxon Vise”) that raises the work slightly above the benchtop.  As my original twin screw vise was starting to wear out, I more and more just relied on my sort-of shoulder vise (it’s actually a crochet with a screw).  But that is not a permanent solution, unless I become a sit down woodworker.  And I’m far too fidgety for that.

So a more permanent solution has been born.

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Fine furniture, it ain’t.

My original inspiration was Jeff Miller’s benchtop bench.  At its heart, though, this is a twin screw vise with some extra work surface.  The work surface is 24″ long, 13″ deep (including the inside jaw) and 3″ thick.  Including the feet, it raises the work over 6″ off the benchtop, which equates to about 40″ from the floor.  That height is comfortable for me at 5’10”.

The vise has just over 24″ between the screws, and it opens to over 5″ wide.  More than enough capacity for things like saw vises and tenoning work.

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Very stable.

I like this form because it is so stable.  Many purist twin screw vises are tippy, both while clamping it to the workbench and when working at max extension.  Suffice to say, this one is not.

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Quite a bit of counterbalance to the vise jaws.

The new benchtop bench is admittedly Frankenstein-esque in its composition.  The work surface is four sheets of 3/4″ plywood.  The vise jaws are both 8/4 red oak (bone dry and lined with adhesive backed cork from the home center), as are the feet (with non-skid ladder tread applied to the bottom).  The wooden screws are 1 1/4″ hard maple, threaded with a Beall Tool Company wood threader.  The vise nuts are 5/4 ash.

The inner jaws are tapped to hold the wooden screws; the threads on the wood screws terminate for a tight lock to the jaws.  The outer jaws have 1 1/4″ clearance holes, drilled with a different drill bit that is slightly larger than the one used for tapping (but not so large that there is risk of wracking).  The vise nuts are also tapped with the Beall Tool Company kit.

You may have noticed how chunky the design is.  The source material has a lighter feel, but this is not a magazine piece.  Two recesses on each leg create trestles which are sufficient for clamping.  Any further aesthetics (including shaping the vise nuts) would have added to the build time.

Before the benchtop bench gets put to work, I’ll secure the feet (which are currently just glued on) with lag screws coming down from the top.  I also have not secured the wooden screws to the back jaw yet, as this is technically a prototype.  Securing the screws would take as little as a 1/4″ dowel through the inner jaw and the screw itself.  I may also add dogging capability.

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I also must chamfer the outer jaw all around.

This project was long overdue.  I have a ton of dovetailing coming up, which was a good excuse to finally get this done.  But more on that later.

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What is “Hand Tool Only”?

I spent the weekend at The Woodwright’s School in Pittsboro, North Carolina. I met Roy Underhill, used the giant dovetail saw and saw some awesome woodworking obscura (like a restored Barnes mortising machine).

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Proof I was there: A one-of-a-kind dovetail saw with my water bottle in frame.

I also learned to rive green wood and made a little dovetailed box from poplar and walnut. Not the best dovetails I’ve ever cut, but I’m not ashamed. It was a beginner’s class that my buddy wanted to take, so I only learned a couple of things.

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I finished dovetailing so quickly that I got to rive a walnut box lid.

Because it’s the Woodwright’s School, the big theme was “hand tools only”. I have tended lately to call myself a hand tool only woodworker. But I own three large machines for my shop: (i) a double bevel compound miter saw for cutting to rough length, (ii) a 13″ thickness planer for squaring edges and faces once I’ve hand planed two sides true and square, and (iii) a benchtop drill press for repeatable, plumb holes. All three machines are integral to my woodworking. I do not own a table saw or router table.

The only hand-held power tool that gets any regular use in my shop is a cordless drill driver. I also have a circular saw and jigsaw (both used almost exclusively with sheet goods) and a compact router set for quick-and-dirty chamfers and roundovers (or occasionally flush trimming).

So does that mean I’m fibbing when I claim to be a “hand tool only” woodworker? It depends on what I mean by “hand tool only”.

I cut the overwhelming preponderance of my joints with the saw, chisel, brace, and plane. I say overwhelming preponderance because sometimes the drill press or drill driver pulls brace duty. So I draw my own personal line at using machines for joinery when making furniture. That is what makes me, in my mind, a “hand tool only” woodworker.

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A Small Oversight

I’ve been on a shop appliance kick lately, including some necessary upgrades for the workshop itself. In addition to finally hanging some proper lighting, I also added a parallel clamp rack to the side wall. I have two more such racks; I just need some more washers to hang them correctly.

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Much harder to knock down, now.

I also felt it was time for a tool rack on the back side of the workbench, a la Monsieur Roubo. With a scrap of 1/2″ baltic birch and some pine offcuts, I knocked together a rack that gets the spacing right for my chisels and other everyday tools.

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Holes on 1 5/8″ center are just right for Narex chisels (rather than the 1 1/8″ in my tool chest).

I am 100% certain this would have been a 20-minute job if I owned a table saw. Instead, it was about 2 hours of planing, spacing and gluing (not including drying time), but the result was worth it.

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That block plane is a clamp.

There is only one problem: I never squared the back edge of my workbench. Time to debate whether to remove the top from the frame so I can square the back edge, or just attach a wedge to level out the surface.

In the meantime, I think I’ll make a “Basic Project” out of it.

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If it’s Wobbly…

then you should have put a stretcher on it.

 

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A bit more spindly than I expected.

I thought the drawbored mortise and tenon joints would be enough, but the ash sitting bench has turned out to be a bit wobbly.  So paraphrasing Queen Bey, I’ve decided to retrofit a stretcher to back legs.  In my world, “retrofit” is a synonym for “lap joint”.

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It’s times like these when I’m glad my workbench is apron-less.

A friction-fit lap joint can be very strong.  Between the long grain-to-long grain glue surface and the mechanical strength of the intersecting joint, it can be nearly as strong as a proper mortise and tenon joint, even without a metal fastener.

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It’s so pretty.

Because the joint will never be seen, though, I may add a slotted screw to each joint for a little bit more lateral support.  Or perhaps a walnut peg, to mimic the other drawbored joints in the piece.

There was some subtle twist in the entire assembly, so I’ve left the joint clamped for the full 24 hours.  That will give me time to think about whether to screw or peg.

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It’s almost like I meant to do it.  And now it matches the table a bit more.

The only other remaining question is whether this one stretcher will be enough.  I’d prefer not to add a second stretcher to the front legs.  I tend to cross my legs at the ankles when I sit, and that stretcher would get in the way.

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