small projects

Hither and Thither

Earlier this year, I made a little traveling tool chest to go with my traveling workbench. It works great, and it holds all of the hand tools I need for working away from the shop. But it’s not perfect. I didn’t really think through the bits and bobs I’d need to actually do woodworking. Things like a roll of blue tape, a powered drill driver (and charger), a hammer, and auger bits. Pretty much everything that isn’t french fit into the well or a till just gets piled in and must be unpacked and piled elsewhere to access to the main set of tools.

It’s a well known fact that Dutch-style tool chests are bigger on the inside (having lots of places to stash tools around the inside of the main compartment). And with some wall cabinet projects coming up, I needed some dovetailing practice. I’d been cutting mostly mortise and tenon joints as of late. Even though I consider myself to pretty good at dovetailing, it had been a while. So let’s make a Dutch tool chest.

No half tails this time. But I still got it!

Now a full size Dutch tool chest (single lower compartment) is portable enough in its own right. But I like the form factor of my current traveling tool chest and have found a full size DTC to be a little unwieldy to load and and out of the truck. So this chest, although 27″ wide, is only 18″ high. That means a full size main compartment but only a 3.75″ lower compartment. Big enough to cram in a drill driver and charger, a roll of auger bits and a brace and bit and some other bulky odds and ends, but not so big that I’m tempted to overpack. I’ve found that as far as traveling tool chests go, the more extra space you have, the more extra tools you’ll cram in. And that defeats the purpose.

It looks narrower than it actually is.

One of the beautiful design features of a DTC is the angled top. Not only does it keep you from piling things onto the chest (thereby preventing you from getting at your tools), it also means that you can put a full size tool rack on the back wall of the main compartment. You just can’t do that with a square chest. I prefer a tool rack that is 1.25″ x 1.25″, with 1/2″ holes drilled on 1.5″ centers. A good number of my tools actually require elongated holes (not just the bigger chisels), but a 1/2″ hole on 1.5″ center is good for a great many tools.

Yes: in a traveling tool chest, I still need 3 screw drivers. That’s a bevel gauge between the awl and the marking gauge, btw.

Another great part of the DTC form (piggybacking off the angled top) is the plane till. Not only can you fit a plane till into the main compartment of the chest (in this case, one that holds not only my two shortened panel saws, but also a small 12tpi rip tenon saw), but because of the extra headroom in the main compartment, the space underneath the saws on both sides of the till are usable space. In a stationary, shop-based DTC, you can just pile things in there. For this traveling chest, I’ll need to make some little trays (like the plane till, more on that below) to keep things from bouncing around. And the saw till also keeps the tool rack from sagging in the middle.

Usable space under there.

This is a traveling chest, so I don’t need to fit a full set of bench planes. Instead, I just keep a No. 5 (with both straight and cambered irons) and a No. 3, plus a low angle block plane. Taking into account the saw till, I’ve got 6.125″ of depth for two rows of plane till/general storage. That is enough (with some creative orientation) to fit everything I need, including my sharpening gear. That’s what I currently have in the square traveling tool chest well, at least.

I don’t own a table saw, and making long thin stock is tough by hand (at least without using rolls of double sided tape). So I tend to build up my tills for French fitting with 1/4″ nominal hobby boards from home center. The poplar is best; one can usually find it nicely quartersawn in 48″ lengths. Its true thickness is around 7/16. But when French fitting by hand, it’s just shooting board practice.

Still needs some internal dividers.

I think that’s it for this one. I have a new to-do’s for the rest of the weekend that will take me out of the shop.

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Fixgasm (Part III?)

I’m unsure if this counts as a proper fixgasm, but I finally got around to framing out and paneling a closet that for a long time was hidden behind the old wall panels. But let’s assume for a moment the closet was already framed out and paneled. Then putting some shelving in definitely counts as a fixgasm.

Yes, I have mostly black and yellow branded tools. No, they aren’t a sponsor.

This closet was, up until this very day, a receptacle for the detritus of the workshop. Clamps, offcuts and various oddments were piled up, leaning against the wall. So with floor to ceiling storage (these metal rack units work great for closet shelving), I have now emptied two (!) different smaller storage units that take up floor space in the overflow room. Getting rid of those smaller storage units will allow me to move things around a bit, which will free up more room.

And then it cascades until I might finally create a direct path from the handtool shop to the thickness planer in the overflow room.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

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One for Me

I wonder sometimes if others have similar woodworking experiences to me. Namely, that just after finishing a piece for myself, a friend or relative will ask for it instead.

Now I try to live my life as Tolkien describes Aule, the Smith (“the delight and pride of Aulë is in the deed of making, and in the thing made, and neither in possession nor in his own mastery; wherefore he gives and hoards not, and is free from care, passing ever on to some new work.”). And I like to think that quote describes me pretty well. So many pieces end up in others’ hands, even those pieces purpose built for me, if the giftee seems particularly keen on it.

For that reason, I have been sans dining table for some time. Every time I finish one, it seems it’s claimed within a few weeks. But not this time. At least not yet.

This one is about as utilitarian as I can imagine.

The style itself feels a bit tacky to me. It’s a home center butcher block tabletop (birch) and the legs are poplar. Nice, clear, straight grained poplar (left over from the base of my Moravian Workbench), but still. The table is an inch too low (at 27.75″) because I was just using what’s on hand. The legs themselves are round tenoned and wedged into thick blocks. Essentially making leg brackets. Which are just screwed into the underside with torx deck screws.

Utilitarian, indeed.

I’ve been joking on social media that it’s a lazy table (third laziest, in fact). But I don’t think that’s quite right. The legs themselves are tapered octagons. And the mortises are bored at 12.5 degrees and when attached have about a 30 degree sight line. I didn’t make a full base or dovetail the legs into the tabletop or something like that. But it still took some thought and problem solving.

I really like the way the table sits with this rake and splay. No newborn deer look from any angle.

But that’s not really the point. Calling it lazy seems to me a bit like gatekeeping. And that’s not something I support in any field, especially hobby woodworking. All that should matter is that a person made a thing and had fun doing it (or at least is pleased with the result). I personally don’t use a table saw or a router table, but I also personally don’t give a fuck if someone else does.

Although I sometimes wish that I had a lathe.

There are enough litmus tests in this life. My only one is “do you have a thing that you love to do?” And as long as that thing is not hunting endangered animals for sport, you do you, bud.

And if you do hunt endangered animals for sport, you can fuck all the way off and unfollow me.

Please and thank you.

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New Year’s Day, 2022

Another year has passed. As is my heathen wont, I went to bed early last night, stone sober and well hydrated, and hit the shop early this morning. I like to begin each year on my own terms. And then ride out the downhill trajectory from there.

In advance of my regular January vacation, I’ve been making a “gentleman’s tool chest” for a core set of hand tools. Now I’m no gentleman (or so I’ve been told), but as I understand it, the “gentleman” refers simultaneously to (x) a non-professional woodworker and (y) the smaller set of tools a non-professional joiner or cabinetmaker would have in their chest. So maybe I am a gentleman.

This particular tool chest is a modest 25″ long, 11″ deep and 11″ high and will have 2 sliding tills. The planes and sharpening gear are french fit into the tool well and there won’t be too much lose gear rattling around. It’s also intended to be a general around-the-house toolbox holding my nicest spare tools so it will move around a fair bit.

Still one more sliding till to make.

In any tool storage build, like in life, there are compromises. For example, there is not any room for joinery saws in this chest, but I have modified a 10 tpi rip saw (it crosscuts too) and a 6 tpi rip saw to have shorter plates. I say modified; I cutoff about 5 inches from the toe of each saw with an angle grinder and filed off the burrs. The shorter plates are stiff enough for precise sawing as needed (and everything gets cleaned up with chisel or router plane anyway).

It’s also rabbeted and nailed, not dovetailed. Cauls help keep everything flat when nailing together.

The full kit this holds is as follows:

  • Planes: No. 5 jack plane, No. 3 smoothing plane, Low-angle block plane, small router plane
  • Saws: 10 tpi rip cut panel saw (18″ plate): 6 tpi rip cut panel saw (18″ plate)
  • Chisels: 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, 1 inch bench chisels, carver’s mallet
  • Marking and measuring: 12″ combination square, 8″ machinist square, wheel marking gauge, 12 foot tape measure, folding marking knife, mechanical pencils
  • Boring: Two jaw, short sweep brace, plus hex adapter, large diameter adjustable auger bit, drill bit set, hand countersink
  • Sharpening: 120, 220, 1200 grit diamond plates, side clamp honing guide and setup block, plus glass cleaner and jojoba oil
  • Miscellaneous: Warrington-pattern hammer, slotted and phillips screwdrivers, cork sanding block, foam ear plugs (lots of these)

I’m sure there is something I’m forgetting (I can supplement this later), but I find the above set of tools is everything one needs for general woodworking projects that aren’t intended to be the finest furniture. I can take rough lumber to dimension with these tools and do crisp joinery by hand without too much fuss. I will likely make or purchase a medium router plane to fit this chest, as well as a set of wooden winding sticks and a wooden straightedge.

As I write this, the second till is glued and nailed and drying in the shop. So that means only one thing: it’s lid time.

And that’s the point at which every tool chest build starts to get tedious.

Happy New Year, everyone!

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Cultural Appreciation (Part III)

When last we left my foray into the Chinese low workbench form, I had made a 48″ sawbench out of 8/4 Clear Vertical Grain (CVG) Douglas Fir. That bench has served me very well and I love look of the wedged rectangular tenons more and more each day. In fact, I love it so much that I recently made a new coffee table using the same joinery in quartersawn red oak.

The warm color of boiled linseed oil on quartersawn red oak.

I have this 72″ x 10.75″ x 1.75″ ash plank that has been sitting around the shop for some time. It started off as a 96″ board, but a chunk of it became the vise backer board on my Moravian Workbench. The rest of the plank might have ended up at the top for the outdoor workbench, but it became clear it was too narrow and too thin for the type of work that bench (at 24″ deep) sees.

So, instead, the remainder of the ash plank will become a foot-of-the-bed bench in my bedroom (is there a technical term for that kind of bench?). I have the luxury of a king sized bed and 72″ is actually a bit undersized. And I keep my bedroom pretty dark (blackout curtains and whatnot), so the two toned color of the heart-size face grain shouldn’t be a problem. At least not for me.

Ash is great in that you can clearly see the shape of the tree in the boards you get from it. Really helps read the grain.

Unlike the sawbench, though, I plan to add a short rail between each pair of legs. I can do this because although the play of the legs is still 10 degrees like the saw bench, the rake is only 2 degrees (as opposed to 10 degrees). This means the legs, being nearly vertical when viewed from the side, will still pretty easily take a tenon with a square cheek and shoulder (just like a pair of legs with no rake). With the 10 degrees of both rake a splay, I’d probably have to do a rabbeted (instead of mortised and tenon) stretcher where the shoulder is an obtuse angle and the cheek of the rabbet slops down to the tip.

I’ve learned not to scribe the ends of the tenon so deep, although I kind of like the window casement look.

I like the rectangular tenons because it allows me to fine tune the rake and splay of the legs. When using round tenons, you’re pretty committed to whatever angle(s) result from how well you bore the tenon at the correct angles. With rectangular tenons, you can pare away with chisel (I use a guide block of the correct angle(s) to fine tune it) after chopping or boring out most of the waste. Plus, I don’t own a lathe so my round tenons are never that crisp.

Now I won’t commit to not boring holes for pegs on one end (to form a planing stop). But I will commit to not painting the top surface so that the paint doesn’t transfer to the work.

Ah, crap. I’m just making another Roman workbench, aren’t I?

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Fixgasm (noun)

Fixgasm (noun): a small, heavily-procrastinated DIY project that, when completed, has a significant effect on efficiency or enjoyment of the object or space.

Example:

Finally added the spacer between the split top.

Having a split top workbench with a gap between the slabs is quite convenient for weird clamping jobs. But the gap is not so convenient for keeping tools off the floor. With a bit of time today, though, I managed to fit the center spacer to fill the gap. I’d been meaning to do this for a while and, other than the ripping of 12/4 ash to make the strip, it was pretty easy and should have been done a while ago.

Classic fixgasm.

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Headlight Fluid

Working with unprepared stock is usually no fun. I prefer to work from rough lumber purchased from the yard (because it’s both more economical than pre-surfaced stock and there is more variety available). But for things where 3/4″ white pine will suffice, it’s hard to beat the home center common boards. Spend an hour digging through the pile and you’re bound to find clear, straight grain stock. And if you don’t, come back in a week and try again.

But even the clearest, straightest grain stock tends to cup and twist once it’s been in the shop for a week. Re-flattening can take it down to 5/8″ thickness or even less (depending how severe the cupping is), and it adds time and aggravation to the process.

But what if cupping and twist didn’t matter? If you’re just gluing and nailing something together, couldn’t you instead flatten the boards with some clamping cauls and go to town? The answer is, of course, “yes”. And that’s the approach I took when knocking together a quick Japanese-style toolbox for a recent trip out of town (don’t worry; I quarantined both before and after).

Like so?

We modern woodworkers get hung up on perfection, sometimes. To us, everything needs to be piston fit and machinist flat, even when it really doesn’t matter. But, in reality, only some surfaces need to be perfect. Our forebears knew this (just look at the hidden surfaces in any period masterwork). If the wood is going to restrained, it doesn’t really need to be perfect in the first place.

And so, once glued and nailed, and then reinforced with floorboards and gussets, also nailed on (and maybe even glued), any wayboard boards on this toolbox will be restrained from future movement. Might it blow apart in the future from some unforeseen stress? Maybe. But probably not.

Thing thing is solid as a rock.

And, in any event, if it does, it’s just some home center common grade white pine 1×12’s joined with glue and nails. I can always knock it apart and add some dados to keep things more in alignment.

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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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I’ve Figured it Out!

I call myself “The Apartment Woodworker”.  But, really, nowadays, I’m the “small space woodworker”.  Which doesn’t sound as cool, but it still pretty accurate (my workshop where my workbench and tool chest reside is a 12×13 bedroom).   But after all these years of woodworking (8ish?), I’ve finally figured it out: the setup for woodworking in an apartment or other small space like a proper woodworker.

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This is literally the apex of everything I’ve worked towards.

Without hyperbole, I feel like I’ve reached the apex of the intellectual exercise of small space woodworking.  It starts with the Apartment Workbench, which is constructed entirely from 10 or less home center 2×4’s and built basically like a heavy-duty sawbench.  Although the saw-bench construction might make the bench a bit tippy if the legs are too far in from the ends, the vertical legs might have a benefit: the design makes it easy to clamp onto the gussets.

When you add a couple of shop made sawhorses in the Japanese style, some F-style clamps, and maybe a strip of 3/4 plywood for a tool tray, you’ve apparently got an actual workbench.  The gusset on the legs clamps to the cross beam of the sawhorse (both front and back) and that’s your workbench.  Some lumber stored across the lower stretchers would add to the mass of the bench, but it’s not strictly necessary.  And I’d probably add some non-skin disks to the sawhorses to make sure you’re not sliding around on a slick, laminate apartment floor.

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The legs barely extend past the sawhorse.

But, all in all, it works as well as I could hope.  It’s not perfect, as the combined height of a typical sawhorse (29″) and a 2×4 slab (3.25″ or so) is uncomfortable for much besides hand planing.  But one can always clamp on whatever workholding you need beyond the palm, such as a moxon vise.  I prefer a bench around 34.75″ high for most work (I’m exactly 5’10”), btw.

But, as far as I can tell, this is absolutely serviceable for a small space woodworking bench.  It’s basically a Japanese planing bench, with some Western brute force adjustments.

Although I would recommend chopping mortises at the back end over the back sawhorse.  For whatever reason, it jumps less when you chop on the back than the front.

Maybe it was just the grass.

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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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