apartment woodworking

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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A Valiant Effort

I too read that recent Popular Woodworking online article about Taytools hand planes. I’m not much of a tool collector (I have a spare Stanley No. 5 for my out and about toolbox and a cadaver of an extra Stanley No. 4 to scavenge parts if necessary), but I couldn’t help myself at the Amazon price for a No. 4.  I’ve wasted far more money on other tools, after all.

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The No. 5 was sold out and, besides, I have a No. 5 I love already.

Let me start by saying that, for the price, this seems like a pretty good tool.  I paid US$65 and got something that felt solid in my hand.  Would I recommend it for a new woodworker with limited space to work in?  Very probably.  I think it’s a valiant effort, all told.  But let’s explore a bit further.

I’ve restored between 5-10 antique Stanley planes and setting this thing up for relatively refined work took about an hour.  The most work went into the cap iron (about 20 minutes), which started out a bit rustic.  I also had to grind a bevel onto it, which went slowly and carefully to avoid removing too much material.  The cutting iron was ground hollow and only took about 10 minutes to flatten and another 5 or so to sharpen and introduce the back bevel with the ruler trick.

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I’ve seen worse.  Much worse.

The plane’s sole was also ground pretty hollow, which is fine.  I haven’t fully dressed the sole for smoothing yet, which I plan to do to 220 grit.  The manufacturer seems to have erred on the side of hollow grinding where possible.  For the record, I am 100% okay with this approach.

Three things about the Taytools plane stand out to me, though.

First, the mouth of the plane is cavernous.  On my Type 11 Stanley, the mouth is a smidge under 3/16, and closes up nice and tight with minimal frog advancement.

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The pitting doesn’t affect performance.  Stop complaining.

Compare that to the Taytools version.  The mouth is over 1/4 wide.  Now, 1/6 may not sound like a lot, but it’s noticeable (and a 33% increase!).  If I wanted this plane for general work, it’d do fine.  But as I’ve noted before, smoothing takes a tight mouth.  I had to move the frog significantly forward to close up the mouth.  Will this result in chatter?  Who knows?

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Notice the scratch pattern around the edges from testing the flatness.

Second, the frog adjustment mechanism is just garbage.  Novel, but garbage.  The yoke is cast into the frog itself and the tapped hole for the adjustment screw was not parallel to the bed.  This meant the frog kept binding as I turned the screw.  I eventually gave up and removed the frog adjustment screw entirely.

Finally, the plane is longer than a vintage No. 4.  Not by much, but I could see it making an incremental difference over the life of the tool.

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Weird, right?

I would be remiss if I didn’t weigh them both.  I prefer the lighter Stanley No. 4 Bailey pattern plane to the modern Bedrock copies for smoothing tasks.  My current smoother clocks in at a manageable 1615 grams.

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That’s 57 oz or 3 lbs 9 oz for the imperial types.

Surprisingly, the Taytools No. 4 is only 1890 grams (aka, 67 oz or 4 lbs 3 oz).  A bit over half a pound heavier than my Type 11 No. 4.  Not bad – and a far cry from the advertised 5 lbs. of some modern Bedrock copy No. 4’s.

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It lost a couple of grams when I ground the cap iron, in fairness.

So, again, is this I tool I would gift to a beginner woodworker interested in apartment woodworking on a budget?  Yes.  But that “yes” assumes the beginner has basic knowledge of how to prepare and sharpen a plane iron.  I don’t think the rustic cap iron would be much more of a nuisance when shavings got clogged.  And everything else seemed in relatively-good working order (apprentice marks and all).

And setting this tool up would be a hell of a lot less effort than fully restoring a swap meet piece.

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Rapid Fire

It’s been a while since my last blog post, but I’ve been far from idle in terms of woodworking. First off, I finished up the new office desk and it works great. The Eastern White Pine is much easier on the elbows than red oak, and sitting on a stool (rather than an Aeron Chair) has helped my posture immensely.

I have since purchased a drafting stool.  

I’m nearing the end of the the bathroom vanity build, which I’ll post in more detail about later in the week. It’s a complicated project in quartersawn white oak that really does a number on my edge tools. I’ve recently switched to a Lie-Nielsen honing guide (which my sister-in-law bought me for the holidays) and the angles don’t match the cheap-o guide I’ve been using forever. They are, in fact, about 5° difference (e.g., 40° on the old guide roughly corresponds to 35° on the LN). 

Sure, I could have soldiered on doing the math every time.  But thinking is the bane of efficiency in the shop.  So I made a new sharpening jig out of sweet, sweet mahogany.  This jig is less complicated too because planes and chisels register in the same slot in the LN guide (the cheap-o guide has different slots for each).

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I needed a new notation because it’s really about 35.5°.

Interestingly, the LN guide is also wider.  Or, rather, it doesn’t have the extra material in the middle, so on my largest blades (specifically, for my No. 7 plane), it didn’t register fully and introduced additional error.  About 50% wider did the trick.  

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The old guide and the old jig will now live in my toolbox.

Speaking of which, the new tool box is also finished.  It came out really great (if I do say so myself).  It fits a No. 5 jack plane, a tenon saw or half-back saw and all the other accoutrements I may need for on-site work.  And it looks really pretty. 

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Compare it to the old tool tote.

I have two complaints about it, though. First, I haven’t found any lifts that I like yet.  Second, the eye on the transom chain anchor gets in the way sometimes, making it a little finicky to remove the tray.  But that’s the cost of storage, I guess.

So that’s all for now.  

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Alternatives to Fighting

In progressing the standing desk build, I had to make a design choice regarding how to attach the back stretcher. But, more importantly, I had a practical choice to make. The angle of the back leg on each of the two frames is slightly off. Call it half a degree or so. Near the top of the assembly, there is no appreciable difference. 30″ or so down the legs, though, it’s nearly 3/16″ off.

I could, in theory, modify the cheek depth on one of the tenons and cant it very slightly to correct for this discrepancy. Or I could just run the stretcher near the top where the bag legs are, for all practical purposes, parallel. And if I’m doing that, why not in my impatience just lap a dovetail?

Because of course dovetails.

Half-lapped dovetails are an interesting joint. I personally find them aesthetically displeasing, even when executed perfectly. But they provide a mechanical resistance against tensile force that in other joints would require some sort of fastener (dowels, screws or bolts). And, like the comparable joints (mortise and tenon, half lap joint), they have significant long grain to long grain glue surface for maximum strength.

Plus, I find them rather easy to cut once you dial in the compound angle.

Ugly or not, this particular joint is not only on the back of the assembly, so I don’t have to every look at it again. Plus, it will be painted. So I’m happy with the choice.

Now I just have to make the top.

Have I mentioned that Eastern White Pine is just the best? Because it is.

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Palate Cleanser

With the bathroom renovation fully underway, I couldn’t put off building the vanity any longer. Almost two years ago, I selected the design to generally rip off. Shortly thereafter, I purchased who knows how many board feet of 8/4 quartersawn white oak, which then sat in my workshop to acclimate for many months before dimensioning.

It’s been so long, my new workbench was still in big room..

White Oak can be very beautiful and (being both waterproof and tough) it is perfect for applications like bathroom vanities. Hard Maple works well too. But unless it’s air dried, White Oak is just too damned hard to work with hand tools alone. Based on how tough it is (and the way it warped when acclimating in the shop), I assume this stock is kiln dried. So I didn’t even bother trying to chop the mortises by hand. Instead, I utilized the drill press like a mortising machine and pared each mortise to width with a chisel. I also squared the corners, because effort.

Before and after.

The tenons were no peach either. I typically saw tenon shoulders and then split the tenons cheeks (rather than saw them). A router plane then pares down the cheeks to get a piston fit. This approach works pretty well, even in kiln dried White Oak, as long as I don’t take too much of a bite with the router plane. But fine-tuning the tenon shoulders (i.e., end grain) with a shoulder plane is basically impossible. If I don’t saw perfectly to the line, it’s chisel paring or bust.

So after getting through the joinery on both end frames, I was ready for a change. Back to the Eastern White Pine standing desk I’m leisurely making for my home office! If you’ve been reading for any amount of time, you know that I prefer to torture myself with angled back legs and this desk build is no exception.

Fluffy and delightful.

Why Eastern White Pine for desk, you may ask? Well, it’s my experience that a softer wood with a bit of flex is better in the long run for hands and elbows. I’ve been working on a quartersawn red oak desk for about five years now and I’m pretty sure I have arthritis in one elbow because of it. I’ve taken to using gel rests for both keyboard and mouse, but they don’t do anything to make up for the lack of flex.

It’s always a boon to make it through an assembly with no broken pegs.

These frames are only 34″ high overall (and will likely be down to 33.5″ when the feet are leveled). Add in two inches of bearer and two more inches of tabletop, and perhaps 3/8 of felt furniture pad, it’s still only about 38″ high. At just a bit over 5’10”, a perfect standing desk for me is about 40″ high. So where am I getting the rest of the height? From my ventilated laptop stand, of course!

The final desk won’t be quite as long or as wide as my current desk. I don’t work from home nearly as much as I used to, so there is just no good reason for a 76″ x 30″ desk. It takes up too much space. Something more like 60″ x 20″ will be plenty of real estate and will free up a fair amount of floor space.

But this new standing desk will make my current office chair pretty useless, so I need to find a decent 30″ stool with a backrest.

Find or make, I guess.

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The Treasure was with Me All Along

I think every woodworker has at least some hoarding tendencies. But I tend to loan or gift away my old tools to family or friends (mostly so I have something functional on hand when they ask me to help with a project). And I freely distribute completed projects long before they clutter start to clutter up my living space. Neither do I hoard scraps, having but a single bin for useful longer boards and another box for smaller (mostly quartersawn) off-cuts, with the rest going in the fire. What I hoard, though, is uncommon boards. Whenever I’m at the lumber yard and I see a particularly tantalizing (which, for me, usually means “wide”) board , there is a good chance I’ll buy it.

For example, I’ve had for about two years now an eight foot long, 17 inch wide, 8/4 board of white ash, which I swear one day will become something. I also have four foot long, 6 inch wide, 16/4 slab of soft maple, which seems to have been cut diagonally along the length of the tree so both faces are entirely end grain like a miter (and, therefore, probably perfectly stable).

But my most prized board right now is probably the least flashy. A ten foot long, 17 inch wide, perfectly clear piece of 5/4 eastern white pine. Not a single knot in the 18 or whatever board feet this thing represents.

That’s the big off-cut bin in the background.

I have absolutely no idea when I purchased it, and I only just rediscovered it stashed behind a sheet of plywood in storage. In theory, you could get the entire carcase of a blanket chest out of the single board. But I already have a blanket chest, so there is nothing to do but let it sit until something else comes along.

Nearly 17 inches at the good end.

There is a little bit of punk near the middle of the board (it may have been dropped on a rail or something at some point), and one end has a bit of wain, taking it down to a paltry 16 inches wide. But I could cut around those minor defects.

The circular blade on the lumber mill must only have been 13.5″ at max height.

But it just goes to show: sometimes, the treasure was with you all along.

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Sorting Things Out

It’s been approximately six years since I started woodworking. Once and for all, I’ve grown out of the nylon tool tote I bought from Rings End all those years ago. So it’s time for a DIY toolbox.

I’m actually not here to talk about dovetails in reclaimed mahogany (for once).

It goes without saying, but any tool storage container should be sized to fit the tools it’s meant to hold. Specifically, the interior length should allow the longest tool to easily enter and exit (phrasing?) and the interior height should accommodate the tallest tool and any racks or tills. The interior width, however, is determined based on all the tools to be held.

In this case, the interior dimensions of 21.5″ x 9″ x 9″ accommodate a half-back saw that is about 21″ long and the combined height of a No. 5 jack plane and chisel tray. The width is based the till for that half back saw, plus that No. 5 jack plane, plus a large router plane (with 1/4″ spaces for French fitting in between to keep everything snug).

I went back and forth on how to do the floor of the tool box. I briefly considered 1/2″ plywood captured in a rabbet or groove, but I was impatient and assembled the case before plowing the groove. So tongue and groove pine nailed to the carcass it was. It doesn’t match the case, but this is a utilitarian piece.

Dovetailed nails for strength.

I find the most joy in the repetitive tasks of hand tool woodworking. Sawing, chopping and shaping are great, but planing is where my heart truly lies. And none is more enjoyable than the process of planing tongues and grooves with the specialty tongue and groove plane. It has an opposable fence and cuts both parts of the joint.

I could use this plane for hours.

In prior projects with tongue and groove floors, I typically work with the boards that I have and then trim off any extra. Which is fine when there is a skirt to hide the unevenness. But there is no skirt here, so I matched the width on the outer boards, and then matched the width on the next two boards, and I’ll size the middle board to fit. It will be rather narrow, but symmetrical nonetheless. You know, for my neuroses.

I’ll send pics when it’s further along.

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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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Branching Out

I’ve been woodworking for about six years total.  Four or so have been hand tool-focused.  It’s hard to admit, but I never really went hand tool only, as I rely pretty heavily on my thickness planer.  I also use a drill press from time to time, because I have one.  And it came in handy recently, as I forayed into some more basic metalworking.

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For me, this is complicated metalwork.

After working at the new workbench for a couple of months, it became rather clear that the connection between the main slab and the extension needed shoring up.  Three posts and some 4″ lengths of angle iron at random intervals weren’t doing the trick.  It needed something more substantial.

I found myself at the home center at 601am on a Saturday (I was actually there for cleaning products), and it seemed they had freshly restocked the angle iron.  I had cobalt bits and a new countersink, so I figured, “why not?”.

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Not even I worried about clocking these screws.

Drilling through 1/8″ mild steel is not too bad (although the squiggly shavings can be sharp!).  And countersinking is messy and loud, if satisfying.  The only hard part about the entire endeavor was lining up the holes in the angle iron to not interfere with the planing stop or holdfast holes.

Now two lengths of 24″ angle iron, with screws at 1.5″ and 8″ from each end, reinforce the joint between the slab and the extension.  They also added a couple of lbs. to the workbench, which can’t be overstated.  Although I’m keeping the workbench shelf-less, I am in fact going to add a back stretcher between the angled back legs to increase the heft overall.

Speaking of which, I added some extensions to the back of the angled legs.  Now the footprint of the legs nearly matches the depth of the bench top, which makes the bench more stable when traversing or using a shooting board.  The extensions also, conveniently, create a ledge for the back stretcher to ride on (meaning I can get away with not gluing the lap-jointed stretcher in place).

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Hide glue and 3/8 lag bolts ensure it won’t ever move.

My next project is a cabinet for under the bench, which will store clamps, fasteners and other odds and ends that I use enough to keep them close at hand, but not so often that they should be in my tool chest.  I’m purposely building it in a way that can be converted to a wall cabinet if the mood ever seizes me.

Stay tuned.

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Keeping it Clean

Let me start by saying that my old workbench is still for sale.  Anyway…

To varying degrees of success, I try to live by the Shaker adage: “A place for everything and everything in its place”.  In the last six years or so of woodworking, I’ve learned at least one important lesson: the place for sharpening is not on your main workbench.

Sharpening is a messy endeavor. Metal filings, steel slurry, honing fluid and tool oils can impregnate the benchtop and wreak havoc on your tools.  So I tried to keep my sharpening implements on the far right side of the bench (away from main work area).  But that just robbed me of the rightmost two feet of work area.  So I decided to do something about it.

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I told you I was practicing!

Largely relying on the Paul Sellers blueprints, I turned about fifteen home center whitewood 2×4 studs into a dedicated sharpening station.  The Nicholson-style design was important.  I needed an apron so I could mount a Grammercy Tools saw vise, which was a gift from my brother and sister-in-law.  The overall dimensions are 47.75″ x 20″ x 36″.

It has enough space for the saw vise, my sharpening stones (or bench grinder)…

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These Ikea goose neck task lights are pretty nice.

… and a dedicated metalworker’s vise.  It also has a tool well for random implements.

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Which I still need to finish by adding a skirt around it.

There is no mortise and tenon or dovetail joinery in this build.  Only lap joints and housing joints, glue, nails and screws.  Without exaggeration, I used a tiny subset of my entire tool kit to make this sharpening station (on purpose), which are tools a beginner woodworker is likely to have:

  • No. 5 bench plane (all dimensioning tasks)
  • No. 4 bench plane (final smoothing only)
  • Block Plane (a shoulder plan would have worked better)
  • 3/4″ bevel edge chisel (with mallet)
  • Eggbeater drill
  • Hammer and die-forged nails
  • Screwdriver and slotted wood screws
  • Various clamps and hide glue

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Never likely to see any hand planing, so I re-purposed the back apron as the bottom shelf.

I took this minimalist approach because I wanted to know whether or not a beginner, with a core set of hand tools, could actually build something like this.  The answer is a resounding: probably.  I’m no beginner anymore, but some of the joints require pretty tight tolerances (like the housing joints where the aprons connect to the legs).  I guess if I went slowly and took great care, I could have pulled this off all those years ago.  But it might have ended up slightly wobbly.

But I’m glad to have undertaken the exercise, as it’s a piece of shop equipment I’ve been missing for a long time.

Long live clean workbenches.

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