Small Projects

Just Right

Things are weird right now. Well, now and for like the last couple of fiscal quarters. But one of my happy places is casual dovetailing with whatever scraps I have hanging around. Often, that casual dovetailing ends up in a toolbox which gets gifted to a friend or loved one. This one, though, I’m keeping for myself.

Why does everything look like a casket?

This particular tool chest is for outside woodworking, so one of the important things is making sure the rot strips hold up. So I went to the MAX with some sort of plastic that is used in boat building. They’re pretty slick when sitting on engineered surfaces, but they work great on grass and concrete. Plus they (and the stainless screws) will never rot away.

That’s a lot of nails!

The inside of the chest is pretty utilitarian; essentially, it’s a gentleman’s chest. The well is big enough for both a No. 7 and a No. 4 or No. 5 bench plane, and the saw till holds one back saw (a carcass saw) and one hand saw (a modified Simmonds that I cut 4″ off the toe and re-toothed at 11tpi rip cut). I also added a sliding till for holding chisels and marking tools, although a combination square sits on top of the saw till at the back of the well.

I actually use my Narex spare chisels and my Veritax spare carcass saw.

All in all, I think I’ve hit the right balance with this tool box. Some prior versions didn’t quite work out, for various reasons. But this one is easy to carry, holds the right amount of tools, and best of all, it used up the last of my Driftwood paint from General Finishes and cleaned out some of the scrap pile. I didn’t get a good shot at it, but I also got to use a few pieces of scrap cherry as battens along the edges of the lid to keep it flat.

The lid is the nicest piece of pine in the entire build.

So if you’re wondering why it’s been so long since I last posted, it’s because I’m rather displeased with the new wordpress blocks system. They’ve removed some basic functionalities that I’ve relied on since the beginning and it’s so dumbed-down it’s clearly meant for non-facile folks. It takes far longer to do basic posts and I’m really sick of it. They even got rid of the click only autofill on tags. It’s fucking bullshit.

If anyone has a recommendation for another platform, let me know.

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Cultural Appreciation

Let me be the first to say: I have no non-American cultural identity.  It’s just the way I was raised: my family doesn’t associate with any other country other than America.  We’re just American, with no hyphens.

Okay, with that out of the way, let’s talk about Chinese workbenches.  To learn about working on a low workbench, I’ve done quite a bit of internet researching the forms and methods of low workbenches (as compared to high workbenches with vises).  And part of that research involved Chinese woodworking.

From what I’ve seen, traditional Chinese woodworking involves bowsaws (or framesaws) on the push and they also push planes (but there is a cross-bar that’s held like you’re giving someone the guns).  The Chinese workbench form seems pretty similar to other low workbench forms in that it has splayed (and sometimes raked) legs that are mortised into a slab benchtop.  However, it seems unique in that it typically has a stretcher between each pair of legs (i.e., perpendicular to the length of the slab).  It also has rectangular tenons instead of round tenons.

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Like so.

I’ve made a number of low, Roman-style workbenches with slab tops pierced by round tenons (i.e., “staked” legs, per the current parlance).  There is amazing recent scholarship out there by Lost Art Press on this form.  But there isn’t a ton of information out there on Chinese woodworking (although, I haven’t moved to print yet).

So with little more than a few pictures, I set out to give the Chinese form a try.  For ease, I only angled the legs outward at 10 degrees, same as on my sawbenches and my low workbench.  I did not try for compound angled rectangular mortises on my first try.

As always, I do my protyping in Eastern White Pine, an easy to work and abundant material that lends itself to trial and error.  The benchtop is 8/4 stock about 8 inches wide and 31 inches long.  The legs are 1.75 inches x 1.5 inches and either red pine or heart pine (they’re reclaimed from an old shack) and are much harder and than the fluffy top.  All parts are bone dry.

Although not strictly necessary, I started by boring the mortises with a brace and bit to clear most of the waste.  I chose a 5/8″ bit for 3/4″-ish tenons, which were scribed with a mortise gauge.   A 1/2″ would have worked as well, and folks are likely to have a 1/2″ bit handy in a drill driver.  It’s a lot easier to bore a hole when you’re not aiming for perfection like with round tenon joinery.  Even a wonky hole (as long as it doesn’t cross the scribe lines) is just fine.

To be clear, you do not need a brace a bit.  These are easily chopped out.  Just use a narrower chisel and leave some room to pare down to the lines.

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Just make sure to use a backer board to prevent blowout in the softwood.

After the bulk of the waste is removed, it’s just paring with a chisel down to the gauge line.  Work slowly and use the same bevel gauge to help spot the angles.  When working in fluffy pine (“bullshit pine”, as I like to call it), a flat mill file is just as good as a mortise float.  Eventually, you’ll have an angled mortise.  DO NOT reset your bevel gauge.  You’ll need it for the stretchers.

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OSHA-approved workshop footwear.

Each of the legs takes an angled shoulder at the same angle as the mortise.  Make sure the tenon will clear the mortise, mark the tenon itself with a marking gauge set a bit fat to the mortise (so you have room to pare down or crush the fibers).  Then mark the shoulder with the same bevel gauge.  Angled shoulders, especially wide ones, are pretty easy to get right if you cut away from the line and pare down with a chisel.  Undercutting is fine.

I apparently got no pictures of cutting of the angled mortises in the legs for the cross strechers.  I used the same mortise gauge setting to mark the mortises and the tenons and set to chopping by hand.  There was no way I was chopping a 3/4″ mortise with a 3/4″ chisel, even in pine, so I used my 1/2″ chisel and pared down to the lines.  The same bevel gauge sets the shoulders of the stretcher, and eventually you have everything fitting nicely.  I actually drawbored the stretchers into the legs and wedged the tenons in the top.

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Leave some room to trim down the legs.

Leveling legs can be done a couple of ways.  I prefer to use the 4×4 of truth.  Which is just a length of 4×4 the height I want (minus the height of the benchtop) with a pencil resting on it to scribe around the legs.  You could also use the level surface method, but level surfaces are hard to come by and in any event that sounds like overhandling to me.

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These angles are perfect and it still looks wonky from several angles.

All in all, I get it.  This entire bench could have been (and pretty much was) built with just three main tools: (x) a bench plane for preparing the stock, (y) a chisel for chopping the mortises, and (z) a saw for sawing the tenons.  I guess you also need a mallet, a square, a bevel gauge and a marking knife, but that’s semantics.  No lathe.  No drill press.  Just time and care and the most basic of tool kits within the reach of any hand tool woodworker in an apartment.  I’m not even sure you’d need a proper workbench (even a low one).

Even with the vertical legs and no long stretcher connecting the leg assemblies, it’s very stable.  And compound-angled legs would add additional more stability.  In fact, that’s my next attempt: compound leg angles.  But I wonder if that would require compound angled shoulders for the cross-stretcher as well.

Thoughts for another day.

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Test Run

A few years ago, I bought a Veritas Bevel Up Jointer Plane.  I also got the jointing fence, which I have more than once used to make a hand jointer for small parts.  It’s also still very useful for edge-squaring, especially on long, narrow stock.

But ever since I inherited a first gen Stanley Bedrock Jointer Plane, I haven’t had room in the tool chest for it.  It therefore lives in storage and, without it closely at hand, it’s been rather neglected in its use.  So I’ve devised a way to keep it closer at hand: a saw till to hang on the wall.

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Ignore the bad paint job on the wall!

I have a fair pile of reclaimed mahogany that one day will become a full wall cabinet (maybe not Studley-level, but something like it).  One part of any good wall cabinet is a plane till.  From what I can tell, there are two basic ways to capture the planes in a plane till.  First, angle the till with a single catch at the bottom so gravity does all the work.  Or have both top and bottom catches so the planes can sit vertical.  I’ve chosen the latter.

There’s three parts to store in the till: (x) the plane itself, (y) the jointing fence, and (z) a toothed blade that’s great for coarse work and also roughing up smooth bench tops.  Let’s start with the box to store the plane.

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Because of the ridge to which the fence attaches, it’s unfortunately not possible to shoot with this plane.

The box is pretty simple: just three narrow pieces of cherry, glued together in a long U shape and nailed after-the-fact for extra strength.  The recess should be about 1/8″ wider than the plane sole and at least 4″ longer than the plane sole.  Then friction fit and glue and nail on ends to enclose the box.  Once the glue dries, glue and screw on the first cleat to capture the heel of the plane sole.  The exact thickness of the cleat and the height and depth of the recess will depend on the plane.

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Like so.

If this were an angled till, that would be the end of it.  But a vertical till needs another cleat at the top to capture the toe of the plane.  The till works by inserting the plane toe at an angle into the top cleat, then straightening the plane to vertical and dropping the heel into the bottom cleat seen above.  And when it’s dropped into the recess made by the bottom cleat, the toe should still be retained by the top cleat.  Otherwise the plane would crash to the floor.

Unfortunately, locating the top cleat is a bit of trial and error.  It’s L-shaped, much like the cleats that retain the fence as seen below.  You can make this cleat in a single piece (like I did) or laminate it from one narrower piece and one wider piece.  There will be a sweet spot where the depth and height of the rabbet forming the L allows easy access in and out without too much slop.

Once you figure out the spacing, screw the top cleat in place from the back of the till.  No glue with this one, just in case something needs to be adjusted, either because the angle is off or you get a different plane and want to reuse the till.

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The nearly-finished till.

A couple of wooden hooks retain the jointing fence and the replacement blade hangs in its plastic case from a cut nail.  I declined to finish the till and just screwed it into a stud on the wall.

Funny thing is, since making the till, I still haven’t used the plane.  Perhaps I just don’t need it.

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The Easy Way Out

A corollary to “Why build it when you can overbuild it?” is “Why do it the easy way when you can do it the hard way?”  The latter seems to be the theme of my latest project, a sitting bench and occasional Roman workbench.

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Cherry, plus Boiled Linseed Oil, plus Sunlight = Beauty

I could have easily glued and nailed a gusset onto each set of legs and called it a day.  That would have been the easy way out.  But I had to go make it all complicated and mortise in a stretcher that’s flush to the underside of the benchtop.  Sure, it looks nicer and will theoretically be stronger, but it’s at least twice as much work.

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This entire article is just a clip show, apparently.

I should note that there are two failure points in this setup.

The first is cross-grain movement.  I assembled the bench in my downstairs, non-HVAC workshop on a humid day.  But the finished piece will live in the HVAC upstairs living area so it should shrink a smidge.  Nonetheless, the quarter inch drawbore pegs are likely not strong enough to resist heavy seasonal movement, even if they had been rived from solid stock instead of storebought dowels.  I have a nagging suspicion that 3/8 would have been more appropriate.

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Clamp pressure was a must, even with the drawbores.

Second, the 10 degree rake on the legs seems a bit aggressive.  There is the slightest bit of flex in the legs when I sit on the bench, although it might just be the slickness of the hardwood floor.  I can imagine that heavy mortising over the legs might loosen the lap joints over time.  We’ll just have to see.

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I added Veritas bench pups to one end.

I used the bench for some basic hand planing last night and have some plans for a special shooting board/bench hook that braces against the bench dogs pictured above.

Once that shooting board is functional, I’ll move onto a Palm that fits over the bench dogs, and maybe a removable crochet/shoulder vise that does the same.  Or maybe just drop the illusion of this being furniture add a whipple hook?

Is it obvious that I’m between major projects right now?

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Nearing Completion

The second mirror for the upstairs bathroom is complete and I’m as pleased as I can be with the result. Everything seems balanced out now.

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Color match is what it is.

In making the second mirror, I took no chances and went straight to a rabbeting bit in the trim router.  There is something to be said for ultra-repeatablility and ease.

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Color match is what it is.

There are a great many power tools I’ve given up since I first started woodworking, but I would rather die than be without my rabbeting bit and flush trim bit (both of which have a place in a hand tool-focused shop).

Or, whatever.

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Working it Out

Once upon a time, I bought a twelve foot long board of 6/4 cherry that was supposed to be the top of the reclaimed cherry console table.  But as fate would have it, there was just enough of the original table to make the full reclaimed version, so this board sat in my workshop for night on a year.  I couldn’t sleep last night, so this board’s time came at about 3am.

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The basic bench takes shape.

The entire bench is made from that one board.  The top consists of two edge-jointed boards and is about 10 3/8″ x 1 1/2″ x 49″.  The legs are 2 1/2″ x 1 1/2″ and angled at 10 degrees.  The overall bench is 19 1/4″ high, which is my preferred height for sitting benches (and saw benches, at that).

The legs are beyond friction fit in their lap joints with the benchtop.  I went through two pine beater blocks with lump hammer persuasion just to get them to seat in a dry fit.  A small part of me wants to make this a knock down bench, but it is compact enough to be portable even when glued together.

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As I was making the bench, I had the Saalburg workbench in my mind’s eye.  But looking at it now, I don’t think one could ever mistake the two.  In any event, this bench is more for sitting than for woodworking.  I’m not saying I won’t bore some peg holes.  I just don’t plan do much more than home handiwork on it.

I have some sweet square head lag screws left over from a prior project that would be perfect for reinforcing the glue joint connecting the legs to the bench top.  But I still think there should be some gussets.  I wonder if it’s worth doing drawbored mortise and tenons or just simple lap joints with glue and screws.

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I remembered this time to leave enough extra to make the cutoff easy.

I’ll take some more pictures when I decide what to do.  Until then, I plan to get back to dimensioning the white oak for the lower shelf on the bathroom vanity.

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Gusset (noun)

noun
noun: gusset; plural noun: gussets
A piece of material sewn into a garment to strengthen or enlarge a part of it, such as the collar of a shirt or the crotch of an undergarment.  A bracket strengthening an angle of a structure.

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This is a gusset.

Joining two or more pieces together is an interesting endeavor.  Some joints, like dovetails or mortise and tenon joinery, have tremendous mechanical strength (especially when force would largely be applied in the direction of that mechanical strength).  Other joints, like rabbets and dadoes, offer greater strength than a simple butt joint, but nonetheless require some fasteners to achieve a durable connection.

But what about butt joints?  In theory, a face grain to face grain glue-up using a modern PVA glue with upwards of 3,000 psi in glue strength should do fine on its own.  Prudence dictates adding a metal fastener or two perpendicular to the mating surface to prevent the joint from sliding over time under normal force.  Forces are not uni-directional all the time, however.  And specific woods are not ideal for every application.

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With a 4 sq. inch mating surface, the glue theoretically asserts 12,000 lbs of force at the glue line.

Take, for instance, the above-pictured “saw bench”.  Although patterned somewhat on the Schwarz design (plans are here), it is assuredly not a piece of shop equipment.  Made from Eastern White Pine, it’s instead a portable sitting bench for a buddy who is about have a child.  I like the design, as it’s easy to knock together in a leisurely day.  Plus, it’s so damned comfortable.

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A proper Schwarz saw bench in the background.

Under no circumstances can this bench collapse with a baby in the picture.  So I added some gussets to stabilize the legs laterally.  I might not have done so in another, harder material.  In fact, had this been oak or ash, I might have instead just screwed twice into the face of the joint and put a third screw in from the bottom.  But pine splits with too many fasteners per square inch (even when pre-drilled).

So next time you need to stabilize a joint from forces in a direction other than the mechanical strength of the joint, consider adding a gusset.  It might just save a baby’s life.

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Upon Further Reflection

It’s easy to take for granted certain luxuries.  Electricity, clean water, indoor plumbing, HVAC, etc.  But there are certain modern amenities that you don’t realize you miss until they’re gone.  Like a bathroom mirror.

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The frame matches the vanity!

I’ve never made a picture frame before.  And I’m 100% certain this is not the way to frame a picture.  That’s what miters are for.  But mirrors are heavier than pictures and the frame needed to be stronger than a simple miter.  I guess I could have splined the mitres, but that is power tool claptrap.  So I went with lap joints, reinforced with pegs to match the vanity drawbores.

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New phone, new camera.

White Oak is difficult enough to work with hand tools when it’s kiln dried.  But imagine cutting 8 linear feet of rabbets with a moving fillister plane and a mild hangover.  It’s a freaking nightmare.  But with perseverance, you can turn this:

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Mildly case-hardened, but all in all not too bad.

Into this:

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Simple enough glue-up.

Attaching the mirror was a bit of a head-scratcher.  My solution was to use caulk that dries clear and just schmoo the thing in place.  Clear-drying caulk is a veritable miracle, btw.  But it requires a small bit of faith because it goes on white.

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Cork pads are probably in the wrong place, but they cover the pegs on the back side.

That’s just one of two mirrors needed.  So, learning from the process, I’ll cut the corner joinery first and the rabbet second.  I think.

Or maybe I’ll just buy a table saw with a dado stack.

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Fits and Starts

When the spirit moves me, my woodworking progresses quickly.  In the space of a day or so, I went from dimensional 1×12 pine to a dovetailed, rabbeted, glued and nailed carcass for what was supposed to be an under-workbench cabinet.

Biggest rock is best rock.

The whole point of this cabinet was to add some heft to the new workbench without compromising the spirit of “no stretchers”.  The new workbench had a tendency to scoot around while under heavy planing use.  But, it turns out, all I needed to do was add some treads to the bench and it stays perfectly still.

In situ.

They may not be good for the knees, but the cheapo home center anti-fatigue mats are quite effective non-skid surfaces for workbenches.  I should have known.  Back in my old apartment, my dining table workbench sat on top of one of these mats.  And it never moved an inch, whether or not the bottom shelf was loaded up.

So my new plan is to re-purpose this cabinet as a media console.   I will either buy some metal hairpin legs or make a staked-leg base to sit it on top.  

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Not Just About Wood

I made a thing that isn’t made of wood or metal.  It’s an insulating hatch for the attic stairs, and it’s made of rigid foam paneling, hot glue and duct tape.  So long as a hot glue gun counts as a hand-tool, it was made with only hand tools (mostly a marking knife and a rip cut panel saw).  The project came out pretty great, if I do say so myself, even if it’s not super pretty.  It took about 2 hours total to knock together.  Had I a table saw, it would have likely been about 20 minutes.

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I even managed to use the existing rabbets to great effect.

I’ve spent the last couple of days figuring out how to describe the process.  How the skills of hand tool woodworking translate to more than just furniture making.  But it’s just a foam box to keep the heat in, that needed to be a certain size from a limited amount of materials.  So really any maker skills would apply.  With a little thought, though, I was able to use only two panels with very little remaining scrap when finished.  Three panels would have been easier, though resulting in much more waste.

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And it fits.

This is another one of those fixgasm projects: little effort for out-sized effect.  It’s markedly warmer in my house now that the hatch is in place.  So there’s that.

It’s that time of year in New England that’s great for around the house projects (like the inverse of spring cleaning).  My plan for the next couple of weeks is to hang closets, organize things, rearrange my workshop, that kind of stuff.

Will keep everyone posted.

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