small projects

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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Basic Projects: Wooden Straight Edge

It’s been a very long time since I did a Basic Project.  But on this snowy day in February, I think it’s a good time to pick them up again.  This time, it’s a wooden straight edge that is a long overdue project for me.  I admit I only got inspired to make this because I saw it on the blog of the By Hand and Eye guys.

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Hanging holes for convenient drying.

This one is pretty straightforward (teehee).  It’s a single piece of wood, approximately 33″ long, 3″ wide and 5/8″ thick.  I used a piece of mahogany with particularly straight grain, but any piece of reasonably stable, straight-grained wood of approximately the same size will do.

There is also a very short tool list:

  • Hand plane, the longer the better
  • Combination square, any size
  • Rip cut saw, preferably panel
  • Pencil and a ruler

Start by planing one side of the board straight and out of twist.  This reference face is very important to the overall project.  Clearly mark it with a face mark and a direction arrow, so you can keep track of it in the future.  Then bring the opposite face reasonably into parallel with that reference face.  Exact precision is not essential on the opposite face, however.

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Flattening a board with a try plane is easy mode.

Then bring one edge into square with the reference face, as straight as you can (but we’ll fix it to be perfectly straight later).  It’s not essential for the ends to be squared.  Just measure up 1″ from the straight edge and then cut an angle on each end.  I used 15°.  You could leave it at that, but remember that wood exchanges moisture with the air through its end grain.  That means the more end grain that’s exposed, the more stable the straightedge will be.  So let’s now taper the whole straightedge along its length.

Measure 2″ up from the reference edge on each end and mark it with a pencil.  Find the center point along the length, measure a few inches out from either side, and draw a line between each of those points and the marks on the end.  Saw down each line and clean up the tapers up with a plane.  It is not essential for these tapers to be perfectly square, but do your best.

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This cut exposes additional end grain.

And that’s it for the main shaping.  Break the arrises all around and bore a couple of hanging holes, about 2″ in from each end and 1″ up from the reference edge.  These hanging holes are more my preference than anything.  They make the straightedge easier to grab.  An alternative would be to use a gouge to cut a couple of fingertip grooves.

So all that’s left to do true the bottom edge.  If you’ve got a known straight edge (like a metal straight edge), just use that.  But if you don’t have a straight edge, you can use a trick that I saw on Lee Valley (which is apparently a Christopher Schwarz article).  Lay the square down and trace the edge, then flip it over and see how well you did.  Any undulations will be apparent.  Plane them down and do your best to keep it square to the reference face.

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Without the hanging holes.

That’s it.  Slap on a coat of boiled linseed oil and you’re ready to go.  A 36″-ish square is pretty easy if you have a No. 5 or No. 7.  But if you only have a block plane or a No. 4, perhaps start with an 18″ square.

In any event, check it now and again to see if it’s gone out of square.

 

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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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