small projects

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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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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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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Sincerity in Imitation

Thoroughly ripping off Mr. McConnell, I’ve been making a small workbench to clear out some spare Douglas Fir 4×4’s from the home center.  I don’t know about you guys, but whenever I see a rift-sawn, clear-ish 4×4 at the local Lowes or Home Depot, I buy it.  For US$8 or so each, it’s hard to pass up such useful dimensional lumber.  I’m sitting on ten or or so of them right now, so why not make a little workbench for a buddy who is moving into a new place?

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It’s not perfect, but it’s good enough for any workbench.

My friend is about 6’1″, so a 36″ high workbench should be perfect.  He does metalworking (not woodworking), so I’ll skip the crochet and assume he’ll bolt a metalworker’s vise to the top.  Speaking of which, a 48″ x 18″ top (i.e., about 6 lengths of Douglas Fir 4×4) should be plenty of real estate.  With the splay on the back legs, it will probably be 20″ from the wall (and I’ll make a backsplash that he can screw on to keep things from falling down the back).

The front legs will pierce the top with through tenons (like a Roubo bench but without the sliding dovetail).  The mortises will be formed in advance by shaping the front piece of the lamination (to keep things simple).  The back legs will also be through-mortised, but on an angle in much the same way as a joined saw bench.  The back lamination, like the front, will be shaped in advance to create the mortise for those angled joints.  

Short rails will connect each front and back leg with lap joints.  But there will be no long rails between the legs.   Instead, a scrap of 3/4″ plywood, reinforced with a couple of Douglas Fir strips, will fit neatly across the short rails.  I don’t expect the workbench to receive much lateral stress (like occurs when planing by hand), so I’d rather leave the area under flexible for storage.

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Beautiful, beautiful lap joints.

In the spirit of adventure, I’m using only a very small number of edge tools to build the bench.  To date, the only handtools to touch the work have been a Stanley No. 5 bench plane, a 3/4″ chisel and a large router plane.  All pieces go through the thickness planer once a reference face and edge are tried and trued.  And F-style clamps are used for glue-ups (with Titebond I).

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This vintage Stanley No. 5 has quickly become my favorite bench plane.

I’ve purposely selected the more twisted boards for this project because they aren’t good for much else.  As a result, each length of 4×4 ends up at about 3.25″ square.  These boards have been in the corner of the shop for over a year at this point, so once the twist is removed and they are laminated, I’m willing to bet they’ll behave (more or less) for the rest of the bench’s working life.

This is all just a distraction from finishing up the Dri-core in the basement.  It’s amazing how much gets done when you’re procrastinating.

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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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